Review of Japan’s Longest Day (1967)

Moving picture, 157 minutes

Seen in 2017.

The Kyūjō incident.

Historical drama, lightly fictionalized.

The opening, which extends for 21 minutes up to the title card, provides much of the context. An important precedent is mentioned later, albeit briefly: The 1936 Tokyo Revolt, in which junior officers with 1400 men occupied the Diet and Army Ministry, killing cabinet members as well as members of the Imperial Household Ministry, quite clearly going against the emperor’s will. Another detail of the deeper context, not mentioned in the film, is that direct action and violence had been a common form of political expression since about 1932, when the chief of the Mitsui firm and several politicians including Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi were killed by political opponents. The trials of the various extremists responsible for such actions served as platforms for the promulgation of their views. Sentences were light, apparently in view of the criminals’ avowed 47 Rōnin-style patriotism. Check out the critical, contemporary rendition of that narrative, The 47 Ronin (1941/1942).

When Hatanaka Kenji in this film appeals to Ida Masataka to take up the cause, Ida is moved by the other’s “seishin no junsuisa” (purity of spirit), the sort of phrase applied admiringly to the extremists of the previous decade. Hatanaka may have hoped for similarly light treatment. His taking the emperor into military “custody”, without genuine regard for the emperor’s opinion, is a very old trick. Interestingly, this was the first Japanese fiction film to cast someone as the emperor, following the American occupiers' deliberate effort to humanize the man by showing him tending his garden etc. Kurosawa Toshio plays Hatanaka well among the more famous faces of the cast, but I would still have preferred Nakadai, the narrator, in the role.

References here: The Last War (1961), Barefoot Gen (1983).

moving picture Japanese production fiction