A sweeping journey about an American returning a surrendered Japanese samurai sword from World War II.A sweeping journey about an American returning a surrendered Japanese samurai sword from World War II.A sweeping journey about an American returning a surrendered Japanese samurai sword from World War II.
When considered as a whole, this project seems more exploitative than charitable. Perhaps I am old fashioned, but when you say you are doing something philanthropic but put yourself at the center of it, it ceases to be a good act and becomes self-promotion (and that is true whether you are Bill Gates, Jeffrey Epstein, the egregious David Rubenstein, or the creatives in question). It would have been laudable if the filmmakers had simply returned the sword to its owner without trying to tell the world about it and make themselves heroes and personalities.
I assume the filmmakers would answer that critique by saying that the story is so important that they couldn't keep it to themselves. To which I would answer 1. probably not. And 2. if you believed that and it was really your pure motivation, why is the film filled with excessive footage of the creators, including just hanging out at their computers making bungling attempts?
One of the more annoying aspects of this film is its self-importance. It is loaded with direct statements and implications that returning a single, fairly commonplace, sword from their grandparent's attic is going to make the world a better place. It is pretty pretentious and silly stuff. The worst moment is when they score an interview with a Princeton Japanese studies professor. I felt really bad for the professor, who got used. The filmmakers play up the interview with sweeping shots of the Princeton campus to give their project the illusion of ultimate prestige and legitimacy. The superfluous shots of the campus and the professor walking through it serve no other purpose since the school, the campus, and the professor have nothing to do with the story. They then obviously feed the professor their line about their small act having world implications. Thanks to the misuse of the magic of filmmaking, you don't get to hear what they are saying to the professor. But you do get to hear him repeating their lines politely as if he has himself come up with them. In the most cringe-worthy seconds of the film, they then add their own post-interview voice over disowning the very idea they have just planted in an Ivy League professor's mouth. That's not just awful, it's fraudulent.
The above is not an isolated incident. They frequently dramatize and falsify their work. In one scene, the filmmaker asks his Japanese grandma, who lives near him, to translate the name on their sword. Not exactly a sterling example of detective work ... "hey grandma, can you come here for a second and translate this?" The filmmakers present this as a breathless Sherlock Holmes moment. As if it came after a long stretch of tough detective work. Pretty sad.
All in all, this feels like filmmakers looking for any premise for a documentary. They found a tiny kernal and blew it up beyond all proportion. In reality, this seems like it wouldn't even be worthy of a spot in the local news.
Maybe for their follow up, they can find someone who had a WWII grandpa who brought home some Nazi execution equipment? They can try to find the family of a Nazi who once used it and return that, too...for the sake of world peace. Or rather for their own sake. Exploiting history and other cultures isn't going to save the world. But it might get a filmmaker 15 minutes of attention.
- Dec 21, 2020