December 27, 2013
Seiji Fukunaga / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer
The recently released film “Eien no Zero” (The eternal zero) succeeded in convincingly and marvelously depicting the life of an elite kamikaze pilot who struggled to go on living, thanks to the tremendous effort of its talented cast and crew.
The film is based on a best-selling novel of the same title written by Naoki Hyakuta. More than 4 million copies of the novel are in print.
The film is directed by Takashi Yamazaki, acclaimed for his work on the film “Always Sanchome no Yuhi” (Always: Sunset on Third Street), which offered a brilliant depiction of the halcyon days of 1950s and ’60s Japan.
It seems to me that the best-selling book and the seasoned director make a fruitful pairing that is guaranteed to delight audiences.
In the story, Kentaro (Haruma Miura) has failed a bar exam numerous times while living a leisurely lifestyle. One day, he is asked by his sister (Kazue Fukiishi), who is a freelance writer, to help conduct research on their grandfather, Kyuzo Miyabe (Junichi Okada), to find out more about his history and background. Their grandfather, a navy pilot during the Pacific War, died in a kamikaze suicide attack.
When Kentaro visits several of his grandfather’s former colleagues, they tell Kentaro that he was “the biggest coward in the navy and just wanted to survive.”
The film basically follows the original plot in the novel—present-day scenes depicting meetings between Kentaro and people who knew his grandfather are interspersed with flashbacks based on their reminiscences.
Although Miyabe is a pilot with elite-caliber skills, he also is the first to retreat when the fighting descends into a free-for-all. At a time when dying courageously was regarded as very honorable, his attitude is nothing short of extraordinary.
Okada portrays Miyabe as a gentle, but mentally resilient man—successfully giving the character, who is difficult to figure out, concreteness and depth. Okada’s well-trained physique also realistically depicts a man who must fight for survival.
The climax of the film comes when Miyabe makes his suicide attack on an enemy ship. During the scene, I saw a quiet flame burning in Okada’s eyes.
A life-size Zero fighter was built for the shooting of the film. Computer-graphic images—the director’s signature method—were used to create spectacular fight scenes, which begin with the attack on Pearl Harbor. In particular, the film’s aerial combat scenes are rendered in greater detail than other such works in the past, allowing viewers to feel as if they were sitting in the cockpit with Miyabe and his colleagues aboard Zero fighters.
After Miyabe’s death, his wife (Mao Inoue), who survives with their daughter, marries another man, who is now Kentaro’s grandfather (Isao Natsuyagi). The performance by Natsuyagi, who died in May, is powerful and impressive, as if he had been preparing for his own impending death soon after the shooting.
Other veteran supporting actors also make remarkable contributions to the film—including the fierce Min Tanaka and Mikijiro Hira, who appears only for a moment.
The film highlights apathy among today’s young people, and Kentaro’s anger at it, by adding a new scene illustrating a gokon matchmaking gathering of young men and women, instead of newspaper reporters, as it was in the book.
About 70 years ago, many men in their 20s were prepared to die while fighting on the battlefront. To ensure this tragedy is not repeated, I hope young people see this film and think about its message.
Eien no Zero
Dir: Takashi Yamazaki
Cast: Junichi Okada, Haruma Miura, Mao Inoue
Running time: 144 minutes
This film, in Japanese, is showing at Yurakucho Toho Cinemas and other venues.
I cried buckets in the end.
I love this movie. I wouldn’t mind watching it over and over again including the pains and the tears. Of course, there were happy moments too.
Of course, Okada-kun in there is a huge bonus.