Gekido no showashi: Okinawa kessen (Battle of Okinawa) (1971)



Director:  Kihachi Okamoto.

Starring:     Keiju Kobayashi (Gen. Ushijima), Yuzo Kayama, Tetsuro Tamba (Lieutenant General Isamu Cho), Tatsuya Nakadai (Colonel Hiromichi Yahara), Mayumi Ozora, Katsuhiko Sasaki (Communications Officer), Kenji Sahara, Eisei Amamoto (Okinawa Regional Officer), Ryo Ikebe, Ichir Nakaya, Goro Mutsumi, Kamatari Fujiwara, Takamaru Sasaki, Akira Yamauchi, Eijir Tono.

horrors of combat from Japanese perspective


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie: 


"August 7, 1942.  The U.S. military dispatches a large naval fleet to assault Guadalcanal.  This marked the start of the U.S. military's Pacific counteroffensive.  Guadalcanal was to be defended to the death!  After six months of deadly battle the ammunition and food supplies of the Japanese garrison were exhausted.  Suffering from starvation, wounds, malaria and amoebic dysentery they were finally vanquished.  The U.S. military counteroffensive that conquered Guadalcanal spread from island to island like an avalanche:  Bougainville, the Bismarck Archipelago, New Guinea, Makin, Tarawa and finally, in 1944, on July 7th the defenders of Saipan chose the path of "gyokusai".  (Gyokusai = honorable death rather than surrender, either by fighting to the death or suicide.)  The Americans were holding a dagger to the throat of Japan.  Imperial Army Headquarters struggled to predict the next American move.  Would they bypass Iwo Jima and head straight for mainland Japan?  Or would they cut across the East China Sea and invade China?  Perhaps it'll be Taiwan or maybe Okinawa?"

The highest ranking officer at Imperial Headquarters says:  "No matter what, we cannot let the enemy get any closer." 

"About three months before, Headquarters had reinforced the defenses of the southwestern islands and deployed the 32nd Army to Okinawa.  The 32nd was commanded by Lt. General Watanabe.  The basic strategy was to use the 32nd to secure the airfields, so that the enemy at sea could be attacked from the air.  Okinawa, therefore, was to become a giant aircraft carrier.  Iye-jima Island had ideal terrain.  Three airfields were to be built in the east, center and west of the island.  The main island of Okinawa was also to have three airfields, in the north, center and south.  However, despite the tireless efforts of the military, local government and civilians, little progress was made toward their planned completion by July.  It was about that time that the sad news of the fall of Saipan was announced." 

"Army Commander Watanabe roamed the island, delivering blunt assessments of the situation in an attempt to galvanize the people.  But instead they aroused feelings of anxiety and fear.  The Army was a sham, consisting of a few officers and construction workers.  The 32nd Army had a head, but no limbs so how could it possibly protect Okinawa?"

Watanabe tells the civilians:  "When the time comes, let all civilians unite with the Army in embracing fate and be prepared to die an honorable death!" 

"After the annihilation of Saipan, despite dwindling resources Imperial Headquarters took great pains to rush reinforcements to Okinawa.  The first group, the 9th Division from Northern Manchuria, arrived on July 11th. Subsequently, the 24th Division, also from Northern Manchuria, arrived on July 18th.  On August 8th, Imperial Headquarters made some command changes.  To replace Lt. General Watanable, who was suffering from battle fatigue, the head of the Military Academy, Lt. General Ushijima, was made 32nd Army Commander.  During the Manchurian campaign, he was nicknamed the 'Merciless Brigadier'."

The head commander at Headquarters tells Gen. Ushijima to prevent "gyokusai" because they must hold on to Okinawa for as long as possible. 

"32nd Army Headquarters.  August 10th:  Lt. Gen. Ushijima arrives to take command.  His Chief of Staff, Major General Cho Isamu, was known to be open-minded.   . . . Colonel Yahara Hiromichi, the Senior Staff Officer, graduated from Army University on an Imperial scholarship and had been sent to the U.S. to continue his education."

"The 62nd Division from Northern China was the last to be deployed in Okinawa.  They joined the 9th Division, the 24th Division, the 44th Independent Brigade, a Tank Corps, an Artillery Regiment and a Naval Infantry Unit.  In all, about 100,000 soldiers were ready for battle."

With the arrival of each group of soldiers, they are greeted by Okinawan's waving their white and red Japanese flags with big smiles on their faces.  Even the prostitutes come out to greet them.  The feeling was that:  "The Americans would be stopped at Okinawa!  Such was the boast of the military and the people believed it.  Indeed, they could not help but believe it for they had never before seen such an overwhelming display of military might."

At a briefing with a large map of Okinawa,, Yahara tells Ushijima and Cho:  "The 24th Division and a unit from the Artillery Regiment will go to Nakagami.  The 9th Division and the core of the Artillery Regiment will be based at Shimajiri.  The 62nd Division will be deployed between them.  This means that no matter where the enemy lands, whether it's the eastern or western shore, these divisions will attack on the first night and then, by the second night, we can pound them with 400 cannons."  Cho adds that then they will launch a general offensive and crush them on the beaches.  Yahara envisions that they will have to fight the Americans from the island's coral reef caves.  Coral is like chalk and can withstand one ton bombs. 

The generals go to Mabuni to look over the terrain.  A whole division could be placed in the caves there.  Yahara does not trust the strategy of headquarters.  Instead of focusing on the air war, he concentrates on the defense of the island itself from invasion. 

"In response to the fall of Saipan, the Government ordered Okinawa's elderly, women and children to evacuate."  A barber sees his son off. 

"On the night of August 21st, the Tsushima-maru carrying 700 school children headed to Kyushu, along with two other ships and an escort ship. . . . Around 10:00 p.m. on the 22nd, the engine of the Tsushima-maru broke down.  It lagged behind the two other ships and drifted near Akuseki Island in the Tokara Archipelago."  There the ship was sunk by an enemy submarine. 

The Governor of Okinawa speaks to the island officials.  He says that there should be no more evacuations.  He wants to prevent another Tsushima-maru incident. 

"Imperial Headquarters could no longer stand by while all the garrison's efforts were spent on the construction of the fortresses and so, on September 14th, they dispatched Air Force Staff Officer Lt. Colonel Kamai.  Kamai was an expert in the construction of airfields."  He is to complete the airfields by September.  Work on the fortresses virtually stops while the airfields are being constructed.  Kamai and the 32nd Army complete the airfields in only ten days.

"On October 3rd, Commander in Chief of the Pacific fleet, Admiral Nimitz receives orders from the US Joint Chiefs of Staff to occupy Okinawa by March 1st, 1945.  Stealthily steaming towards Okinawa, the US prepared to launch Operation Iceberg.  Early on October 10th, a swarm of enemy airplanes descended upon Okinawa.  The first wave of 240 aircraft destroyed the newly completed airfields.  The second wave of 200 planes sunk many ships.  The third wave, 140 strong, destroyed the ports.  The fourth wave sent 130 planes against Naha City almost instantly setting most of the city on fire.  . . . "  We see a local prostitute and the barber in the aftermath of the massive destruction.  The man sees a sign saying that Headquarters needs a barber.  He's definitely interested.

"The planes that raided Okinawa were part of Vice Admiral 'Bull' Halsey's Third Fleet.  After attacking Okinawa, 'Bull' continued south to bomb the airfields of Luzon and attack Taiwan.  When informed of this, the Naval Air Corps flew 500 aircraft to Taiwan."

Postings in Naha report that the Air Corps has destroyed the enemy fleet.  The people jump for joy.  "However, these reports were in error."  Halsey's fleet was intact. 

"But by this time, Imperial Headquarters had already set plans in motion.  Thinking that the enemy had been seriously weakened, they believed that it would be possible to hold the island of Leyte.  Three divisions from Taiwan, and one from Shanghai, were rushed to the Philippines.  But this meant that new troops would have to be sent to reinforce Taiwan."  Yahara believes that the Americans will invade in spring with the blooming of the cherry blossoms.  They will then try to establish a beachhead on the Kadena Coast.  Cho boastfully says that by the time the cherry blossoms wither they will have chased every single enemy ship back to the East China Sea. 

But a telegram from Colonel Hattori comes for Colonel Yahara.  It says:  "Select a division from the 32nd Army for redeployment to Taiwan."  It's to fill the hole left by the troops that were sent to Leyte.  Cho curses the higher-ups.  He asks how they can do this to Okinawa.  Yahara goes to speak with Headquarters and presents the case for keeping the division on Okinawa.  It does no good.  They receive an order:  "The best divisions of the Okinawa garrison will be redeployed."  Cho is furious with Headquarters and Yahara wonders what will become of the plans for Okinawa. 

"On December 24th, Governor Izumi headed to the mainland on official business.  . . . However, the Governor was fated never to return to Okinawa."  The barber rushes to tell his wife to evacuate.  The last boat is leaving.  He also tells his worried wife that he is now the barber for the Command Staff.  Then he gets the news that there are no ships available. 

At this point a schism opens up between the preferred strategies of Cho, who wants to go on the offensive, and Yahara, who wants to take a defensive stance to wage a war of attrition.  Colonel Hattori sends another message.  This one says that the 84th Division from Himeji will be sent to Okinawa to replace the 9th Division that went to Taiwan.  But the next day, January 23, the deployment of the 84th Division was cancelled.  At Imperial Headquarters an officer vehemently argues that without reinforcements Okinawa will be overrun.  But the commanding officer thinks that the ships carrying the troops would just be sunk.  The attention and emphasis must be put on building up the homeland defenses in Japan proper.  On Okinawa Cho is furious over the canceling of the deployment:  "So, we fight alone, and die alone!"  

A new Governor of Okinawa is appointed.  On January 31, 1945 Governor Shimada arrives on Okinawa.  The Governor decides to evacuate the elderly, women and children to the northern hills.  The evacuation begins.  The people have to walk north.  Seventh and eighth grade students volunteer as couriers for the army.  About 1,700 older students join the "Iron Blood Loyalist Troops".  They train daily.  Around 500 older female students train to assist the army nurses.

February 18.  The US force of 60,000  invades Iwo Jima with its 19,000 defenders.  On Okinawa the Japanese figure they will be the next to be invaded.  Approximately 20,000 civilians between the ages of 17 and 45 are drafted.    Major Jin Naomichi reports for duty as Air Force Staff Officer.  Cho tells the new officer that the air strategy is to use the suicide tactics of the Kamikaze.  But as of yet they have no airplanes. 

March 23.  On Daito Island 300 kilometers to the east, enemy ships are reported.  As the US fleet gets closer more spottings are reported. 

March 324.  The US battleships open fire on the island, mainly at Chinen and Kiyan.  A little girl's mother is killed.  She leaves her mother and starts to wander everywhere.  The Prefectural Office moves to a cave at Shuri.  Military Headquarters is moved to another huge cave below Shuri Castle.  The Chihaya student soldiers, acting as messengers, walk around trying to find out where they are supposed to go.  The barber gives Ushijima a trim.  Cho and Yahara figure the Chinen and Kiyan attacks are diversionary and the main attack will occur at Kadena where the island could be split into two parts. 

A group of nine planes, the Bukoku Unit, lands on Okinawa on their way to Taiwan.  They decide to fight the US fleet.  At dawn the next day they go to the attack on the ships in Kadena Harbor.  The officers watch the attack with binoculars.  All the planes are destroyed.  The report comes in that the Allies are attacking the Kerama Islands.  The civilians, 394 of them, are given hand grenades which they use to commit suicide.  

April 1.  Heavy message exchanging is picked up by the Japanese.  Heavy bombardment of Kadena beach begins.  A report comes in:  "From the west beach of Kijima, we cannot see the color of the ocean for the U.S. ships!"  Headquarters asks for clarification:  "It's 30% ocean, 70% ships." 

About 1500 landing craft place four US divisions ashore starting at 8:30 a.m.  The Japanese hold their fire.  They can't afford to waste shells.  A group of Okinawan girls have to be tied up to prevent them from attacking the enemy.  The north airfield is captured.  Fourteen female soldiers from Chatan Village have committed suicide.  The wandering little girl walks rights past the dead girls.   A Japanese soldier straps a huge bomb in a wooden case to his back and throws it under an American tank. The tank is destroyed by the bomb. 

At Imperial Headquarters the report is that the 32nd Army has done nothing to oppose the invasion.  They are trying to save themselves it is claimed.  The Japanese Navy reports it will launch a major offensive on April 6 against the enemy fleet.  Imperial Headquarters sends a message to Okinawa saying that the 32nd Army has to recapture the northern and central airfields in order for the air offensive to be a success.  The navy won't begin the offensive if the army does not begin its offensive.  In other words, the 32nd Army is ordered to go out and fight.

The staff meets to assess their situation.  They are outnumbered five to one.  Cho wants to go on the offensive immediately.  Yahara opposes the idea.  They have to go to Ushijima for the final decision.  Ushijima says that the North and Central airfields will be attacked.  A general offensive is launched.

Meanwhile, the 5th Air Fleet is deploying all the suicide planes they have to use against the enemy fleet in Operation Kikusui (meaning Chrysanthemum Water).  Ushijima sends a message to the biggest battleship in the Japanese Navy, the Yamato.  He tells them not to come to Okinawa because they won't be able to get through the enemy fleet.  The Japanese fleet moves forward. 

The Allies have cut the island into two parts.  And news arrives of more Allied ships in the area.  Cho says the offensive is canceled because if the new troops get behind them they would be caught between two enemy forces and destroyed. Imperial Headquarters demands that the offensive be launched.  The day will be April 8.  On the Yamamoto, 100 enemy aircraft have come to the attack.  Yahara fears the landing of more enemy troops and Cho responds by saying that they must call off the offensive.  A second and then a third wave of aircraft attack the Yamamoto.  Five torpedoes strike the port side of the massive ship.   The fourth wave of airplanes attacks.  Several more torpedoes find their mark.  The ship gets over 10 direct bomb hits on the aft section of the deck and the ship becomes defenseless.  The fifth wave, then the sixth, seventh and eight waves strike.  The battleship lays dead in the water, now a sitting duck. 

A group prepares to attack, but many are killed by Allied artillery and they cancel the offensive.  The commander tells the men to go to the attack anyway.  They make what turns out to be a suicidal attack.

Yahara explains to Ushijima that Shuri is the goal line.  There is fierce fighting from Machinato to Kakazu, the western upper plains and the hills of Tanabaru and Wauke on the eastern coast.  The 62nd Division is strong and holding.  Ushijima says:  "Kakazu is the key position.  If this were rugby, it'd be the ball."  If it is taken, Shuri will be threatened. 

The Japanese throw everything they have into "Operation Heaven #1" to destroy the enemy fleet.  Cho wants to launch a lethal night offensive.  The barber tells Ushijima that when he sees him he himself gets calmer because the General is so calm.  Yahara opposes the idea of the night attack because the front lines are shifting.  Cho says that's good that  the lines are shifting; they will take advantage of the confusion.  Merge the 62nd and 24th Divisions and attack.  The soldiers prepare for the attack.   

The cost of the night attack was the loss of two battalions.  The wounded pour into the cave hospitals.  The prostitute from Naha is also in one of the caves helping out.  The men scream and writhe in pain.  The prostitute holds the leg of a soldier put passes out when she sees the leg being amputated.  A messenger gives one of the doctors a newspaper, but the doctor throws it back in the face of the fellow saying it's nothing but lies.  The headline:  "Kikusui Operation #3:  Enemy Fleet Destroyed!  Great Victory at Sea!"

Cho tells Yahara and Ushijima that if things don't change the 32nd Army is going to burn down like a candle.  Yet they still have the 24th Division, the 44th Independent Brigade and the Artillery regiments. Cho wants to attack, but Yahara disagrees once again.  The enemy has the overwhelming advantage. As they talk a bomb lands near them and the dirt falls from the cave roof onto the conference table.  Cho comes to Yahara and with tears in his eyes asks Yahara to support his offensive.  He says:  "Let's die together."

Naval forces are now to join in on the army offensive.  The truth is that the Japanese are running out of everything.  They are in no shape for a major offensive.  The bombings of the island stop at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. for a brief time.  When these times come, the people in the caves all run outside to urinate.  The barber and a buddy run outside.  There the barber runs into Kokuba, the tinsmith's son.  He will be taking part in a sword charge.  The sixteen year old is ridiculously happy given the situation in which he finds himself.  

The Japanese start becoming very paranoid and talk about spies being responsible for much of the damage to Okinawa.  An old professor carrying something big is suddenly accused of being a spy who gave a signal for an American shelling.  He is shot in the back and killed.  When they search him they find only a framed photograph of the emperor. 

There is some fierce hand to hand combat, but the artillery is devastating the Japanese.  Flame throwers set many soldiers on fire.  Hand grenades are given out to the wounded so they can commit suicide.  Sometimes they even force the grenades into the hands of the wounded.  It's chaos in the nearby cave hospital that overflows with the wounded and recent dead.  A student nurse, Miss Takashiki, is badly wounded and the other young women take her to the hospital.  Now our prostitute who fainted during an amputation operation is handling the removal of a leg like a real pro.  A doctor takes a look at Takashiki.  She screams not to amputate her leg.  Who will marry her then? she screams.  The Governor shakes the hands of the young student soldiers as they go out to die. 

At Imperial Headquarters the talk is that the 32nd Army is no longer an effective military unit.  They decide to give up on Okinawa and concentrate on the mainland. 

Cho asks Yahara:  "Can't we die now?"  But Yahara still hasn't given up all hope.  Ushijima says they will fight to the last man, that is the fate of the 32nd. 

Okinawa is to receive no more reinforcements.  That is, except for the Giretsu Airborne Assault Force.  Yahara talks about retreating to the Chinen or Kiyan Peninsulas.  They could fight with the Yaesu and Yoza Mountains as the linchpins of their front line.  The Governor arrives to ask them to be careful about not making the Shimajiri district a battlefield.  There are 300,000 civilian refugees there.  But there appears to be no way to protect the civilians.  The military men ask the Governor to leave. 

Several planes bringing the Giretsu Airborne Assault Force to its target are hit and destroyed by anti-aircraft fire.  The last plane lands on a runway.  Eight or nine soldiers jump out of the plane.  They destroy many cargo planes and 26 bombers, fighters and other attack planes.  They destroy 600 drums of aviation fuel. 

The Shuri cave hospital prepares for evacuation.  Some of the troops commit suicide by taking poison.  The badly wounded are left behind.  They scream to no avail to be taken with the others.  A soldier gets a sharp razor from the prostitute.  He goes under the covers and slits his throat.  The women try to take Takashiki with them, but she decides to stay behind.  It is too painful for her to be moved.  Many of the badly wounded drink poison and die.   Takashiki is left behind. 

The evacuation south is not an easy one for many.  And the heavy rains do not make it any easier.  Some men crawl along the road to be with the other troops. The barber prepares for evacuation.  He goes with the Chihaya squad.  They leave, but soon come running back as artillery shells rain down on them.  Shuri is being surrounded.  The main road south is heavily shelled.  The wandering little girl shows up on the road.  The doctor and the student nurses from the Shuri cave hospital arrive at a hospital farther south.  They are welcomed by the other student nurses.  They are given heads of cabbage to eat and they gobble them up.

Yahara reaches his destination.  There he learns that the enemy are attacking Naha and Shuri.  Only 30,000 troops were able to evacuate south.  Each battalion is down to about company strength.  Imperial Headquarters gives them an order to head back to Oruku.  But the Navy destroyed everything before they abandoned the place.  Ushijima says they will go back and rebuild what they need.  The commander says he refuses to find amongst the civilian population. 

The march is started back to Oruku.  Many of the men carry sharpened bamboo poles as weapons.  Some of the women beg to fight the enemy.  Heavy fighting continues.  Allied soldiers enter the caves and fire fights take place inside. A woman grabs a machine gun and starts firing.  After awhile she is killed.  There was no reward for their service.  The price for a cup of water is around $30.00.  The prostitute runs outside for a bathroom break.  She is almost killed as she runs back.     

Tokko Battalion #3 tenaciously keeps on fighting.  But even they are wiped out.  General Cho has been wounded.  The Air Force Staff Officer requests air strikes on Okinawa, but is refused.  The person he speaks to tells him that two unforgivable mistakes were made about Okinawa.  The first was the transfer of the 9th Division, which was the fault of Imperial Headquarters.  And the second was the 32nd Army's neglect of air operations.  The fighting continues on Okinawa.  All communications have broken down.  Everyman must fight on until his death. 

All the female volunteers are now released from their duties.  They can fight if they want to alongside the Army.  The Governor tells some disbanded soldiers that they must live for their own sakes and for the sake of Okinawa.  The soldiers point out that the Army told them to die for Japan. 

Staff officers are put in civilian clothes and send out with various missions.  Most of them or all of them are killed.  Ushijima wants Yahara to be a survivor so that he can tell the tale of what happened at Okinawa.  The barber shaves Ushijima.  Cho says that tomorrow on top of Mount Mabuni they are committing seppuku (ritual suicide), while they watch the 32nd makes its final attack.  The enemy arrives at one of the caves where there are a lot of nurses.  They tell them to come out or the cave will be bombed.  They don't come out and the explosives are thrown down into the cave from above. 

The attack starts.  Some of the men run back to the safety of the cave.  But they are forced back out.  Still fewer come back again, but they are threatened with death if they return again.  Ushijima and Cho commit ritual suicide in the cave as the 32nd fights to the last.. What's left of the 32nd goes down in a hail of bullets. A buddy of the barber's puts out a white flag to surrender and is killed by automatic weapons fire.  The barber runs out the back entrance to the cave.  He is knocked unconscious by an explosion.  He is taken captive.  Yahara in civilian clothes shouts:  "Don't shoot!" to the Americans  They let him walk out to them.   The group of female volunteers nurses and the doctor reach the beach but are killed by artillery explosions.  A group of young women want to die with three soldiers.  But one of the soldiers decides to chase the women away with his sword.  Then he runs back and the grenades are set off killing the three.  A flame thrower ignites a lot of women and men in a cave.  A group of young women take poison by the sea.  The wandering little girl walks past body after body along the shore. 

In the Battle of Okinawa, one third of the civilian population perished. 


Good anti-war film.  The film starts out like a documentary.  And it is a mixture of documentary and movie.  The film tells the story of the Battle of Okinawa, but it does not glorify the Japanese soldiers.  The movie follows quite a few different characters (high-ranking officers, a barber, a prostitute, female nursing volunteers, etc.) to their deaths in a futile attempt to fight for Okinawa.  The little girl that wanders through much of the fighting and killing is like the director saying to himself who are these crazy people.  The obvious question for an American is why didn't they surrender when it was obvious early on that they were doomed?  But they loyally did what the Japanese society expected from them.  The Japanese with their feudal samurai traditions and worship of the emperor as a god created a society where every man in the military service involved in a battle was to fight to the death or commit suicide.   How crazy is that!  But that's state fascism for you. 

And it was the behavior of the Japanese on Okinawa that helped convince the Americans to drop the atomic bombs on Japan.  For if the Japanese of the mainland fought like the Japanese on Okinawa, more lives would be saved by employing the nuclear weapons.  After all, nearly all the military men would end up dead, along with multitudes of women volunteers and a huge part of the civilian population, just as on Okinawa.   And it was estimated that up to a million American military men would die. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

See Okinawa (1952)



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