Review of the documentary Wings of Defeat
Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on January 9, 2009
Wings of Defeat is an amazing documentary, which I was privileged to receive a review copy, by Risa Morimoto and Linda Hoaglund. The film chronicled Morimoto’s journey to Japan to learn more about the Kamikaze pilots, of which one was her late uncle. Through interviews with relatives, veterans of the war on both sides, including a number of former Kamikaze pilots, and Japanese and American historians, Morimoto corrected the historical misconception that the pilots were crazed fanatics blindly willing to die for their emperor.
This film used a large amount of vintage film from the war, including Kamikaze attacks against American vessels, as well as footage dealing with the training and take-off of pilots in Japan. In addition, Morimoto interviewed several Japanese veterans of the war, who were eventually assigned to the Kamikaze units. These men attempted to not show their emotions as they recounted their service, but their sadness and grief for lost friends was evident.
What was truly insightful was how the veterans expressed their views about the war and Kamikaze duty in particular. These men did their duty, but not without reservations about it. All expressed their desires to live and did not wish to die. Some even discussed their anger towards the Japanese government for the conduct of the war, with one man blaming Emperor Showa (Hirohit0) for the war itself.
In addition to the insightful interviews and vintage footage, this documentary utilized an interesting animation scheme to depict one of the attacks by the Kamikaze that is similar to anime. I found this a bit odd, but only because I am not used to the style of filmmaking used in this piece. In addition to this, Morimoto incorporated a unique way of setting the timeline as she covered the history leading up to the end of the war. She created images of newspaper headlines of Japanese military successes against a background of Japanese writing. These were great transitions between scenes.
While there were a lot of great things with this documentary, there was one problem with this film, which was only visual. Morimoto used subtitles throughout the film, which were hard to read in some cases, as they were in a brighter yellow, which was hard to read against lighter backgrounds. A better color or having voiced translation would have solved this problem.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this documentary and would like to encourage educators, libraries, and history buffs to consider purchasing this film, as it is a well-done work. It presented a new side to Japanese veterans of World War II and corrected a tarnished record of them and presented them as victims of their government’s drive for power.