Simulwatch - The Horrors of World War II: The Pacific Theatre

WMD

Death Scythe
I think that's true of Japan's animation industry in general, yeah. Even the large eyes which are the central tenet of modern anime character design are attributed to Fleischer Brothers creations such as Betty Boop.
I was aware that post war, with the American occupation in Japan, that a lot of western influence came to Japan and anime in particular but its interesting to see here that that was probably the case beforehand as well.
 

Neil.T

Chuunibyou
its interesting to see here that that was probably the case beforehand as well.
Anime expert Jonathan Clements wrote a very interesting book that covers things like that called Anime: a History. It charts the history of Japanese animation from its very beginnings and goes back as far as 1912!

It's really dense and a very challenging read but so well researched; it began life as a university thesis.
 

Yami

Hunter
Well if there was ever a film with a visual language that was laser-cut to its objective, it's Momotaro: Sacred Sailors (aka Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors, which is how I remember it in the days before its restoration and Western release). The history of film is intertwined with its use for propaganda, with some of it's most effective techniques such as montage being the product of a cinematic arms race to use it to persuade an audience to a viewpoint rather than merely entertain. The Second World War was perhaps the Golden Age of Propaganda, with all sides using film to their own ends. Animation was a particularly popular medium for propaganda, with Disney producing dozens and dozens of hours of propaganda films, perhaps most famously the Donald Duck-starring Der Fuehrer's Face which won the Oscar for Best Animated Short.


Japan's animation industry was certainly not what it is today, and certainly had nothing to compare to Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck or Bugs Bunny. What Japan did have was its folklore, and it used the image of Momotaro, a boy who was born from a peach and fought alongside animals against demons. In 1936, several years before Japan would attack Pearl Harbor, Momotaro fought a demon who was unmistakably modelled on Mickey Mouse - undoubtedly Japan defending itself against an attacking, demonic United States.

Following the success of Momotaro's Sea Eagles in 1943, director Mitsuyo Seo was allowed to make a sequel - this time slightly longer, which gives it the distinction of being the first feature length animated film made in Japan. In Momotaro: Sacred Sailors, the primary is not America but rather the British. The animation is undoubtedly influenced by Disney and Ub Iwerks, but is probably more similar to the work they were doing in the mid-late 20s than contemporaneously during the war. Fantasia, arguably Disney's crowning achievement, was screened in Japan during wartime. Mitsuyo Seo definitely saw it, as did Yasujiro Ozu who famously said "Watching Fantasia made me suspect that we were going to lose the war. These guys look like trouble, I thought." If you compare Fantasia, with it's visual and aural spectacle, made to entertain but also a stunning artistic achievement, to Momotaro: Sacred Sailors, with its black-and-white rink-a-dink animation, it's obvious how wide the gap is. Fantasia is the product of a country with money to burn and minds fresh and inventive - if either/both of these were distracted enough from putting Mussorgsky to Chernabog to concentrate on defeating Japan, what chance would Japan have? We all know the outcome.


However, Momotaro has the entire Japanese animation industry as its legacy and I don't think anyone would seriously argue that it hasn't closed the artistic gap with its American equivalent in the interceding years.
 
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D1tchd1gger

Claymore
Momotaro: Sacred Sailers
This isn't the first feature length animation from Asia, that distinction goes to Princess Iron Fan from China which was released in 1941 and actually went on to be one of the inspirations in the making of this film.
It also wasn't the first Momotaro propaganda anime, that was Momotaro's Sea Eagles:
Seems squarely aimed at children with the animals larking about, on the carrier, in/on the planes as they travel to the island to destroy the enemy base, and even during the assault itself. There's also no death as the enemy sailors, etc are all depicted as drunkards or cowards who run away. The forces of Momotaro have a successful raid and return unharmed. The raid in question obviously being a fictionalised version of the attack on Pearl Harbour.
The animation is actually pretty good, but is very reminiscent of early Western cartoons, as is the music that accompanies it. The art however is quite odd.

The full film seems to be a number of segments. The first sees, I think, the 3 characters who featured prominently in the shorter one return home where Japan is represented as a rural idle and they tell the children how great the Navy is.
The next segment seems to show the preparation of a new forwarding base by the natives who seem a hit backwards and have to be taught Japanese. I actually think that song could be used as basic learning tool if they wanted to learn Japanese, although maybe look up a more recent version. Apparently Tezuka paid homage to it in Kimba the White Lion.
Then there's a short shadow puppet segment which purpose seems to be, remember these Westerners are nothing but pirates who want steal our land. Reading the Wikipedia page it actually supposed to be the Dutch East India Company acquiring Celebes.
The next segment sees the Japanese attack, again supposedly the same island:
The Netherlands, Britain and the United States tried to defend the colony from the Japanese forces as they moved south in late 1941 in search of Dutch oil. On 10 January 1942, during the Dutch East Indies Campaign, Japanese forces invaded the Dutch East Indies as part of the Pacific War. The rubber plantations and oil fields of the Dutch East Indies were considered crucial for the Japanese war effort. Allied forces were quickly overwhelmed by the Japanese and on 8 March 1942 the Royal Dutch East Indies Army surrendered in Java.
The assault on the island is way more realistic in it's depiction than the one in the shorter anime.
I'm not sure why it was the British in the film. Maybe they were the ones who happened to be stationed there and the governor who had disappeared was Dutch. Or maybe the British were the more prominent enemy. One "fun" detail I noticed was the British looking through a dictionary to translate the Japanese. As for the voice "talent" I can only assume that it was a POW whose voice we hear or maybe a defector along the lines of Lord Haw-Haw. Maybe the reason they were British and not Dutch was because the Japanese didn't have anyone to speak Dutch.
Finally we see the children training to become sailors by jumping on an outline of North America!
The production seems a little better than the short, but not much.

The film came out April 1945 by which time Japan had been in range of US long range bombers for half a year and were well on their way to defeat, so as a propaganda piece it was probably far too late, but as an influence on the first generation of post-war anime staff it was probably up there as a big one.

Animation was a particularly popular medium for propaganda
I was going to watch some of the Western ones today, but ran out of time. I found a list of a number of shorts from a number of the nations involved, here:
 

D1tchd1gger

Claymore
A little bit of lead up. Even though bombing raids had already destroyed more area than the total of the ally raids over Germany and despite dwindling supplies meaning that fuel for defending against such raids was running low and the population was starving from lack of food the Japanese government rejected the Potsdam Declaration. It was drawn up by America, Britain and China in the hopes of ending the war without further destruction or the need to invade the Japanese mainland with casualties calculated at up to 20 million Japanese and over 1.5m allied troops if the invasion saw a repeat of what happened at Iwo Jima and Okinawa with over 90% of the defenders dying during the fighting or from suicide! On the 16th July, the day before the conference to discuss the declaration opened a nuclear weapon had had it's first successfull test in New Mexico, but although the document warned of "prompt and utter destruction" the nuclear bomb was not mentioned:

Barefoot Gen
Blimey and I thought Fireflies was a sad film! Though this centred on the one family it does have a wider scope than Fireflies as it also serves as a lesson of what happened at Hiroshima on the 6th August 1945 and in the immediate aftermath.

The scenes of destruction were terrifying and the scenes of the immediate aftermath were sickening, there was so much that it was almost numbing by the end. I was thinking this could only be done in animation, but there are 2 live action adaptations, a film trilogy from before the anime and a TV series from 2007.

I must say though that Gen himself seemed far too energetic for a boy surviving on meagre rations and that was before the bomb. He kept going after all that happened to him which was a little off putting, but I guess it made the impact of losing his little sister hit a bit harder as that seemed to finally break him (for all of 5 minutes).

It has aspects seen in the other films such as characters in dismay at the surrender dispite witnessing the destruction of the war firsthand, but also characters denouncing the government. The rationing and starvation during the war also appears to be a common factor. One interesting aspect seen only here is the treatment, or lack of, of the badly injured survivor. Although the brother does try to help it's only by paying others, whilst the sister-in-law wants rid as she fears getting infected! This happened a lot to the survivors (or Hibakusha) and even to their children!
 
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Yami

Hunter
Barefoot Gen is a harrowing, but strangely optimistic film revolving around the bombing of Hiroshima, which it depicts in vivid, graphic detail. People - men, women, children - are decomposed in front of our eyes, skin and sinew melted, eyeballs pour out like liquid as the window to the soul is shattered in form as sure as the glass panes on the buildings. The colours are bold and vivid, the animation ironically springing to life around these victims as if the radiation is lighting up the frame itself. The strength of the film comes from its willingness to put the most horrific imagery on screen for all to see - animation providing a medium by which this could be achieved, otherwise there would be no conceivable way that an audience could stay for the duration.

I share D1tchd1gger's criticism in that Gen seems to remain surprisingly spunky for the entire duration of the film, even when he is obviously displaying some signs of radiation poisoning. We'll get to discuss Grave of the Fireflies before too long, but in Takahata's masterpiece, often compared to this one, we can quite noticibly see malnutrition and world weariness take hold of the main characters. Another thing about Barefoot Gen is its use of narration to provide some factual points, which comes across as pedagogical at times, making the film feel like an educational video for schools rather than a dramatic fiction (based in fact, of course).

Both the Japanese and the Americans tried to cover up the true extent of the aftermath of the atomic bombings, General Groves even telling the US Congress that radiation poisoning was "a very pleasant way to die". John Hersey's New Yorker article gave the account of six survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima, and is still essential reading over seven decades later. Barefoot Gen is an unforgettable depiction of what occured that day, audacious and brash.
 

D1tchd1gger

Claymore
surprisingly spunky
Looking it up, I think it may be because the manga started in Shounen Jump! Or at least it started there. So he felt instead of making Gen completely biographical, I assume he was actually traumatised in real life, so he needed to make it semi-autobiographical for the demographic of the magazine.

With Grave of the Fireflies it's a short story, so it's a more serious take on a character whilst also semi-autobiographical, for obvious reasons.

I seem to remember J.G. Ballard saying that he was nothing like Jamie in Empire of the Sun and that his experience of the Japanese occupation of Shanghai was actually quite dull.
 
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WMD

Death Scythe
Barefoot Gen

I feel like I'm going out on a limb here and as I type the music and credits are still rolling but I'm going to say that this is the best war movie I've ever seen.

So I've never seen this before and before this simulwatch brought it up I had no idea what it was about. I'd only seen the image of Gen running towards the camera and it gave me no incentive to watch. I was so wrong.

The horrors are so vivid and unpleasant. The fact the first half hour somehow shows how hard the war was for civilians but still feels somewhat idyllic makes what follows all the more painful. Also the film is full of twists I didn't see coming. I thought the parents and sister would die and the 2 boys would be left. I was wrong. I didnt see the baby dying. That was tough. The whole section with the painter was brilliant if brutal in it's own way to watch.

With regards to peoples comments about Gen being too upbeat and energetic I feel that as an older brother its totally real to me. It doesnt matter how hard things get you'd always put on an air of positivity. Its old school machismo but even a kid would do everything to not let his family see his hurt if he thought it would help them fight on. In all honesty I often hate kid protagonists as their ignorance and naivety can be a source of annoyance to me but I liked everything about Gen.

All in all I thought this film was great and I'm very happy this simulwatch happened as otherwise I might never have bothered to watch it.
 

WMD

Death Scythe
In This Corner Of The World

I almost skipped this to be honest. I wasnt the biggest fan of this film the first time I saw it and still dont think the pacing is very good. The first hour feels like 4. But within the context of this simulwatch I'm glad I revisited it. The things it does well are very good.

The art design and use of the fact the main character likes to draw and paint is very well conceived and adds an interesting escapist nature to the film that I imagine many people who lived through the war used to some degree to help keep things together.

The more harrowing elements of the story are also well done. Harumi's fate is a real gut punch and the way the nuclear attack is handled starts out surprisingly subtle before revealing how awful it was.

I especially like how real the characters feel. Pretty much everyone is flawed in some way and we really see how the stress of their lives is affecting them. The film doesn't shy away from traumatic out bursts but instead uses them to flesh out the characters and makes the more hopeful note the film ends on feel pretty well earned.
 

Neil.T

Chuunibyou
Barefoot Gen and In This Corner of the World

I haven't bothered writing detailed posts for either of these, because neither are particular anime highlights for me. In This Corner of the World I saw once at the cinema, but it didn't do very much for me. Given what I've heard about director Sunao Katabuchi's other films, Mai Mai Miracle and Princess Arete, I doubt that his work is something that I'm likely to find much enthusiasm for generally, so I'll leave well alone here, as the film absolutely has its fans.

Barefoot Gen, for me, is hamstrung in its effectiveness by some ropey production, and by its voice acting, which I just cannot get past. Mizuho Nishikubo, director of Giovanni's Island, which is still to come later in this simulwatch, proved that it's possible to use child actors in an animated feature and get a performance befitting your visuals, but I find that the vocals in Gen pull me out of the film rather than draw me in. Also, being based directly on a serialised manga, it also feels somewhat bitty and episodic in nature, rather than having one progressive arc that unfolds across its runtime.

I certainly echo @Yami's sentiments about the impressionistic scenes depicting the Hiroshima bombing itself, though, and that sequence alone is still worth seeing the film for at least once, in my view; those are scenes that demanded to be made. I also applaud the uncompromising tone of the harrowing events that immediately follow the disaster. The film does not shy away from showing the hardships and the horror, and nor should it.
 

WMD

Death Scythe
In This Corner of the World I saw once at the cinema, but it didn't do very much for me. Given what I've heard about director Sunao Katabuchi's other films, Mai Mai Miracle and Princess Arete, I doubt that his work is something that I'm likely to find much enthusiasm for
I didn't realise all 3 were made by the same person. But it makes sense in that all 3 are films I've seen but never had any intention of revisiting. In fact In This Corner is probably their best and most memorable film.
 

D1tchd1gger

Claymore
I wrote most of this before the other posts, but that pesky thing called work got in the way.

In This Corner of the World
Roughly two thirds of the film is more about the mundanities of war rather than the horror of it, although as the war reaches the Japanese main islands it comes crashing into the lives of our cast. As a result some of it drags a bit during that first two thirds, but we do get to know our cast a fair bit, so when things go bad we empathise with the pain and then the frustration when was all for nought.

I liked the art and the animation on the day-dreamy (and nightmare) bits. The backgrounds were all lovely. The only thing that was off was the hands, I know they followed the manga's style, but the hands are too big and although not too distracting on the page, animated they were.

The nature of the manga with chapters being set at certain dates and changing to different aspects of their life meant that when the film follows the same pattern it comes off as a bit disjointed and thus didn't flow too well. It also cut, what I felt, was an important sub-plot as it affects the relationship between the Suzu and her husband! I may do a comparison post at some point. Indeed the makers realised what they had done wrong and added 30 minutes to the film:
Haven't heard anything about this coming out over here yet, so might be a high seas job.

This film is the only one, bar Momotaro, in the simulwatch that isn't based on any one persons real life. However you can tell there's a lot of research that's gone into it, or should I say the manga it's based on. There's lots of diagrams, maps and recreations of things like the pamphlets, and plenty of notes in the margins. One thing of note in the film apart from the general dates of events like bombings is the removal of peoples houses to make fire breaks which as shown didn't actually work! Also briefly mentioned was the declaration of war by Russia on Japan on this day 75 years ago, but we'll come to that when we get to Giovanni's Island.

History time
On this day 75 year ago (9th August) America dropped a second nuclear bomb, this time on Nagasaki, after the Japanese government had ignored warnings from President Trueman. Even after calculating that there would be one or two more nuclear bombs they accepted that "there would be more destruction but the war would go on".
The geography of Nagasaki meant that the destruction and death toll was less than that of Hiroshima dispite the bomb being more powerful.
American propaganda radio warned that a similar fate would come to other cities and leaflets, like those seen in the film, were dropped although the first round didn't warn of the nuclear bomb, but the second version did, as well as mention the Russian invasion.
Also on the same day, as mentioned above, the Russians declared war and started invading Manchukuo. It's argued that this invasion is what finally made the Japanese government decide to surrender, but it started just past midnight before the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki some 11 hours later.
It was probably a combination of all the factors finally sinking in that made the position of continuing the war untenable.

Mai Mai Miracle
Watched it about 2 and half years ago already! For a weird coincidence I watched episodes 9 & 10 of Paranoia Agent on the same day!
Has similar elements to Totoro. Similar time period, girl from big city coming to the country and (possible) magical things happening, but doesn't really do anything with them and then other stuff happens that also don't really go anywhere.
Bonus points for having archaeologists in it though :D
 

D1tchd1gger

Claymore
It's way too hot to turn my PS4 on, so I'll repost what I wrote here last time I watched:

Grave of the Fireflies (sub)
Every time I watch this film I change my mind as to who is the most to blame for the death of the kids. When I first watched it, I was like "what an awful aunt" for her attitude, but later I was like "what a stubborn bastard the brother is".
This time, knowing a little more about things, I can see that they're both to blame in different ways and they also represent attitudes of the time. The aunt represents the society/wartime attitude of we're all in this together and if you don't muck in you're worthless and the brother represents the stubbornness of the military and the leaders in the face of the inevitable. And both the kids represent the death of the dream sold to their generation by the leaders.

It's a great film warning of the fruitlessness of war with some excellent directing, art and soundtrack. The character design of the sister is a little weird sometimes and the rosie cheeks looks like she's wearing rouge which is a little off putting. Some of the scenes are fairly slow, but deliberately so and the film is only an hour and a half so doesn't feel as unneeded as some of the scenes I mentioned in the other 2 films so far (this last statement was about Nausicaa and Laputa as I was watching the Ghibli films and trying to be a bit more critical of them).

I'll probably still watch it just to check on a few things like the timeline, as IIRC it's the same as with The Wind Rises, there isn't any time stamps. But according to the Wikipedia page the first scene where Seita dies is on the 21st of September 1945. Kobe was bombed a few times, but the most likely was the firebombing on the 16/17th of March that destroyed just over a fifth of the city. So the film takes place over only 6 months. The other notable date I remember without watching is the surrender, coming on the 15th of August.
 

WMD

Death Scythe
Grave Of The Fireflies

So this is actually my first time watching this. The film was spoiled for me a long time ago and it robbed me on any desire to actually watch it.

It's one of those films where its objectively great but I really struggled to get into it much. I didnt really emphasise with anyone and it really annoyed me that the brother, first through his action and then through his inaction, essentially lets his sister die.

I cant help but compare it to Barefoot Gen which I ultimately thought was a much better film. This film has better music, animation and acting but Gen, to me at least, was a much better story told in a more interesting way.

I've read @D1tchd1gger comments above and they do make the film better with a bit more understanding. I guess watching 2 children starve to death for 90mins just isn't my cup tea.
 

Neil.T

Chuunibyou
It's one of those films where its objectively great but I really struggled to get into it much. I didnt really emphasise with anyone and it really annoyed me that the brother, first through his action and then through his inaction, essentially lets his sister die.
This is exactly where I sat with the film for years too, when I would see it on Film4. I now own it on Blu-ray, so I eventually got into it properly. It took a while, though.

The film was spoiled for me a long time ago
That's interesting, because the film actually spoils itself, intentionally, in its opening scene. In fact, Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy wrote in The Anime Encyclopedia that the film reveals that the main character dies and then "dares the viewer to spend their time watching the film hoping it won't happen". (That's paraphrased rather than being a direct quote from the book.)


Personally, I like Grave a lot better than Gen, but I prefer Giovanni's Island to both of them.
 

WMD

Death Scythe
That's interesting, because the film actually spoils itself, intentionally, in its opening scene.
That's true. I guess I should clarify the way it was spoiled left me not wanting to watch it. Basically I was told "2 orphans slowly starve to death in the woods and then die"

If I'd been told you know they die from the very beginning I probably would have seen it by now.
 

Yami

Hunter
I've yet to find time to watch In This Corner of the World, but I'll get to it...

Grave of the Fireflies

Here's one I did earlier:

"The best known film by the late, great Isao Takahata. Probably largely off the back of its reputation as one of the saddest films ever made and being championed as one of the great anti-war films by Roger Ebert. It is worthy of both titles, but Takahata doesn't just want to instil sadness; he admitted in an interview with The Japan Times that “It’s traumatizing for an audience to see the lives of two happy people deteriorate over time until they die tragically. If an audience knows at the beginning of the film that the two will eventually die, they are more prepared to watch the film in the first place. I try to lessen an audience’s pain by revealing everything at the beginning.” He also wants to stoke your anger. Anger against nationalism, anger against the stubbornness and arrogance of his nation (as embodied by the actions of Seita), anger against war.

One of the reasons it is the greatest animated film ever made is that it is almost impossible to separate the power of the film from the medium it is told in. While this won't be the prevailing view around these parts, animation is still largely viewed as a vehicle to tell children's stories. Takahata said that “the film provided [him] with an opportunity to explore a new form of expression in animation by capturing the world these two children lived in.” The style is realistic, but the form acts as a filter that puts focus on character & theme - magnifying the film's power. You manage to get more than an impression of the visual horrors without having to witness a live action recreation, which may have paradoxically came across as more false than a drawn representation.

Yet the film is filled with moments of beauty, as the wheels of nature continue to turn indifferently to the follies of humanity."

In recent viewings, I've been captivated by the power of the final shot of the picture. Takahata shows us the ghosts of Seita and Setsuko overlooking what appears to be a (then-)modern Japanese skyline. To me, this is now the most powerful moment in the film and one that seems little discussed. Takahata is telling us that the economic success of Japan is built on the back of unnecessary deaths of its citizens - a memory suppressed, like the denial/non-apology for its war crimes. Takahata is telling his nation to take responsibility and ownership of its past.

Where I think the film succeeds over Barefoot Gen is in its realism; Gen obviously has realism in it, but its protagonist seems to be capable of running at full power even on fumes. We can see the decline in Seita and Setsuko in their general appearance, in their movements and actions.
 

Neil.T

Chuunibyou
Basically I was told "2 orphans slowly starve to death in the woods and then die"
Damn, yeah... If only that spoiler had spoiled the film's own in-film spoiler, then things would've been so much easier.

Or more confusing. 😅


On a related note unrelated to this simulwatch, I had Spike's death in Cowboy Bebop spoiled by a critical US Amazon review, and Kamina's in Gurren Lagann by an Internet meme. "Thanks", The Internet. 👌
 
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