Taiheiyou no kiseki: Fokkusu to yobareta otoko (Oba, the Last Samurai) (2011) 

 

 

 

 

 

Director:     Hideyuki Hirayama.

Starring:     Yutaka Takenouchi (Captain Oba),  Sean McGowan (Captain Lewis),  Mao Inoue (Chieko Aono),  Daniel Baldwin (Colonel Pollard),  Treat Williams (Colonel Wessinger),  Toshiaki Karasawa (Horiuchi).

a group of Japanese soldiers fight on after US forces capture most of the island of Saipan

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

"June 15th,1944. The US military invades Saipan and the Northern Mariana's group of islands. The marines move ashore, establishing themselves on the southwest coast on the way to taking control of the island. Under Japanese control Saipan is called home by 20,000 of her citizens and defended by over 30,000 highly trained members of the imperial fighting forces. Though one of the most strategically important of the Japanese strongholds in the Pacific, Saipan's defenses fold under the onslaught of the American war machine, numbering over 70,000 strong. In the ensuing battle the majority of the Japanese defenders are annihilated and the survivors flee to Mount Tapochau located at the center of the island."

The Japanese on the island are taking a real pummeling. They are dying off quickly under the onslaught of the naval and air bombardments of the island.

"Unbeknownst to the Japanese on the island, the Imperial Navy suffers a humiliating defeat in the seas off the Mariana's, leaving the Imperial Command no choice but to abandon the defense of Saipan. The uninformed defenders, however, continue to fight believing in the inevitable victory of their hallowed imperial forces and their nation."

A new captain that studied in Japan for two years has to listen to a marine who hates the Japs. He tells the enlisted man that he might learn something useful from these people.

Japanese military survivors move up into the mountains An officer tells his staff: "All remaining units are to head to Matansa." Captain Oba relays the message to his men. There is one addition. The soldiers going to Matansa must be able to get there by walking. Those who won't be able to walk the distance have to stay behind.  As his unit moves out shots are heard from the weapons of the disabled men who are committing suicide.

The new officer, Captain Lewis, goes in to report to Col. Pollard. The colonel has been expecting him because he needs someone who can speak Japanese. He tells the captain that he just doesn't understand the Japanese Bushido code and suicide.

A group of Americans on patrol discover a Japanese cave opening. The two Japanese soldiers guarding the cave are killed. Inside the cave are some Japanese civilians. One of them, Chieko Aono, is a nurse. She is hiding in the cave along with her mother and father. The American soldiers throw a grenade into the cave saying Merry Christmas. Sheltered by the bodies of her parents, Aono survives the blast, but she loses her two parents.

The Americans start walking away. Aono rushes out and grabs a machine gun. It's really too heavy for her because she doesn't even weigh 100 pounds. She fools with the machine gun but when she pulls the trigger again and again it just goes click. Aono goes back into the cave and cries over her parents.

Oba tells an enlisted man to let him see the photo of his family. He looks at the photo and says that he has two little ones back home. He then asks the man to come with him. He is going to see if the Japanese Navy has any food to spare for them. The naval officers says that the combined fleet is heading to Saipan.

The enlisted man hears that the naval fellows will not participate in the final assault. The super patriot becomes deeply offended and calls the navy and the naval officers a bunch of cowards. Oba grabs him and takes him outside the storage cave. The patriot repeats his charge to Oba and says tonight he intends to go out in a blaze of glory. Oba become angry and says the enlisted man is not even trying to win the war. He adds: "You just want to die." Oba explains a soldier must be ready to die, but his aim is to fight to win, not to die.

The head officers tells the officers under him that they now are facing their second season since the American invasion of Saipan. A group of the officers are all set up to commit seppuka (Japanese traditional act of suicide by the sword). Added to this particular ceremony is that after the swords are pushed into the men's mid-sections, an officer behind each man also shoots him in the back of the head.

July 7, 1944. The Japanese crawl toward the American lines. "On the day following the suicide of General Saito and his four commanders, the tattered remnants of the Japanese forces gathered near the western coast of the island for a final assault against the invaders. The Americans, however, remained completely unaware of their movements."

The group of American marines who threw a grenade into Aono's cave, are eating a meal. The Japanese open fire achieving complete surprise on the Americans. Now Oba helps lead the charge of the men into the American lines themselves.

The Japanese start taking heavy casualties from American machine guns, automatic weapons and rifles. The Americans also telephone for direct artillery fire right on their own position because they are being overrun.

The attack certainly proved suicidal for the Japanese because not a single Japanese soldier was still standing at the end of the firing. "Over 4,000 Japanese and close to 2,000 American lives were lost in a space of only a few hours. Two days later, the American commanders would declare a total American victory on the island of Saipan."

On the battlefield Oba regains consciousness. He is surrounded by his dead compatriots. He takes a look around, grabs a Japanese rifle, but then quickly hits the dirt. The marines are walking through the battlefield shooting anything that moves. Oba stays dead still.

A man walks right up to Oba and sticks the barrel of his automatic weapon next to the captain's head. Finally, Oba sees that the man is Japanese. This fellows asks Oba: "Are you that desperate to live?" Oba gets up. The man says he's Private Kesamatsu Horiuchi.

The Americans hold an officer's briefing complete with a good map of Saipan. On the map the speaker, a sergeant, points to Mount Tapochau. Near there is a place the Japanese call the "Valley of Hell". At the northwest point on the island the place is called Marpi Point. The cliffs there at the shore are called the "Banzai Cliffs". There the civilians (men, women and children) are throwing themselves off the cliffs to their deaths. This is because the Japanese military told the locals that the Americans are torturers and cannibals.

Captain Lewis tells the colonel that he wants to try to talk to the Japanese soldiers and get them to come into the camps set up for the Japanese. The colonel gives the captain one month, but: "After that, I'll blow them all to hell."

Captain Oba and the men come upon a bombed out shack. Inside is a dead woman. Oba covers up the woman. He then finds a living baby in the shack. Oba tells the baby to "live". He puts a blanket over the baby's cradle and then gives the baby some food and water. He then takes a red cloth and dies it on the outside of the house. The private objects to this saying that the cloth tells the Americans exactly where they are. Oba says but this way the child has a chance to live. The private says but they will all get killed. He lets it go, but he does say that the officer is not making any sense.

The American captain arrives at the shack and finds the red cloth. He knows what this means and he goes to check out the inside of the house. Sergeants Munroe tells him he shouldn't go in, but the captain hears the baby crying. He goes in and retrieves the child. He picks up the baby and brings it outside. He gives it to one of the men and says to make sure that the baby receives good treatment.

Oba is by himself setting up a booby-trap for the Americans. He hears someone coming toward him and hides. He recognizes the front man and calls out to Bito. With Bito are three other soldiers. Sergeant Kitami of the 135th Infantry Regiment introduces himself to the captain. The soldiers are heading north to Mount Tapochau because the jungle there is particularly thick.

The men set more booby traps for the Americans and try to hide the trail up to the mountain top.

The American soldiers on patrol sit down for a water break. When they start up again, the point man finds a grenade. They then discover more grenade booby traps and the hidden path up to the mountain top. Sergeant Munroe tells the captain: "Damn yellow monkeys. How stupid do they think we are?" They clear the traps and move up on the formerly hidden trail.

They are proceeding cautiously, but the captain has a bad feeling and tells Sergeant Munroe to have the men fall back. As they turn their backs to leave, the Japanese open up on the marines. After inflicting a number of casualties on the marines, Obai orders his men to fall back. At least one of the American marines is dead.

Oba sees someone hiding behind a bush and he orders him to come out. It's an older civilian Japanese man named Oshiro. The civilian leads Oba and his men to the civilian camp where somewhere around 200 people live. Aono the nurse is pointed out to the soldiers.

Oba meets 2nd Lt. Kinbara of the Imperial Marines and 2nd Lt. Nagata of the South Sea Constabulary. Oba tells them he is from the 18th Infantry Regiment. He also says that they are preparing to return to the fight and he wants the two officers to remain where they are until then.

Oshiro asks Oba isn't he going to protect the civilians? Oba says his job is to kill as many enemy soldiers as possible. Aono hears this response and doesn't like it one bit. She asks Oba: "Too busy saving your own skin?" One of the soldiers wants to really ball her out, but Oba just continues walking away.

As the soldiers move out cautiously an American aircraft flies over their heads. They wonder where the aircraft is going. Perhaps to the camp. They soon find out because the plane starts dropping heavy bombs onto the area of the civilian camp. Oba leads his men back to the camp. A bitter Aono asks Oba: "Now what do you want?"

Now Oba asks for a count of both the number of civilians and of military men. He also sends men out to scout the area for another suitable place to establish a camp.

The total is 186 people counting both civilian and military. Oba decides to establish three camps with around 62 people at each site. One group will remain here; the second group will move to the west of Mount Tapochau; and the third group will go to the Nibansen Valley.

Oba speaks with Oshiro to explain that he now understands that his main duty it to protect as many people as possible.

The Americans start playing Japanese music to the people hiding on Mount Tapochau. They also ask the Japanese to please surrender. They promise that the Americans will not harm them.

One of the Japanese soldiers seems to have gone a bit crazy. He keeps preaching to an imaginary crowd. One of the officers explains that the man was a Shinto priest.

Private Hioriuchi is teaching Aono how to fire an automatic weapon. He is scolded for this, but ignores the sergeant and goes right on with his instruction. Aono manages to fires the weapon but cannot keep the barrel pointed in one direction. This scares the sergeant and Captain Oba.

The private now scolds Aono for firing so wildly. She suggests that they stop for now but she adds that she does want to try again at another time.

Sergeant Kitami seeks out Nurse Aono. He is going to set down some rules for her. First, no more playing with guns. Second, she is to use his first name, Chieko, and stop using Aono by itself as if she is a man. She says only her loved ones called her by her first name so Aono is just fine with "Aono". She adds: "Aono wants to kill Americans."

A perhaps middle-aged woman asks the captain how old are his children? He says one is the camp child Akira's age. The woman adds that she is worried about the captain and would like his permission to take care of him. Oba looks taken aback by this, so the woman just asks him to think about what she asked him. She hears the Japanese music Captain Lewis is playing for them. The Japanese stop to listen to the song. They look so homesick and nostalgic.

The Americans spot one of the camps. Then they, in turn, are spotted by two Japanese soldiers. The two men report to Oba that they think the Americans will be coming back to the camp early tomorrow. Oba gives the order to re-locate all the civilians to the two other camps by morning.

In the morning the Americans start approaching the camp. They say the report is that the camp is now deserted. Sergeant Munroe and his squad are sent into the camp. One of the men sees some water and shouts out the he found water. Captain Lewis yells out that there's no fresh water on Saipan. The eager soldier trips the booby trap and a grenade explodes, killing him. Oba and a soldier watch what happened and then leave.

Unfortunately, Sgt. Munroe was badly wounded in the explosion. The captain visits him in sickbay. Munroe warns that this unknown Japanese leader is a damn fox.

Col. Pollard tells his officers that he is really angry because he just got an ass-chewing from the brass, who demand to know why are they still receiving reports of enemy activity on Saipan? This made the colonel look very bad because he had assured the brass four months ago that the island was fully secure.

So the colonel explains that they will seek out and destroy anything they find of the enemy on and around Mount Tapochau. And he does not like this talk about a Japanese leader that is too smart to be caught. He says that's just a lot of bullshit. They will capture him within a week. "I promise you that."

Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines. A large convoy of trucks and jeeps head out for Mount Tapochau. They will do a full division sweep of the designated area. They form a single file that spreads out for three miles. The marines at arms length from each other will perform the sweep. Their orders are that the Japs are wanted dead or alive and captured.

Oba's staff urges him to send the civilians out to the Americans, but Oba says the Americans will just kill them. What he does instead is to send the military and the civilians to the eastern cliffs of Saipan where they will uses rocky ledges and caves where people can hide from the enemy.

It's a really hard climb up on a rope ladder for the older people and the wounded. The woman who wanted to take care of Oba says that her mother is too old and weak to climb up a rope ladder. She says they will surrender to the Americans.

The Americans come to the eastern cliffs area. The Japanese look down upon them from their hiding places. A group of marines travel through a stream. A rock falls into the stream from above. The Americans start looking up. An American marine is shot and goes down.

Private Hioriuchi and some of his small group chase after the fleeing marines. The Americans are running scared and being hit in the back with bullets shot by their pursuers. Hioriuchi is only stopped when he comes near an advancing row of marines. Hioriuchi is the hero the the little skirmish as he keeps American helmets at a low level as he fires his automatic weapon in their direction. He also throws several grenades that kill or wound a bunch of bunched up marines. He loses men too but he doesn't have many in the first place. Hioriuchi with another soldier fall back.

Col. Pollard is very disappointed in the results of the search and destroy operation. They caught six civilians, killed only three Japanese soldiers and lost eleven marines. He's so disgusted that he yells for everybody to get out of his office.

Hioriuchi starts digging a grave for two Japanese soldiers. He says he's killed 31 Yanks, but wants to kill 100 of them. Aono comes out and helps with the digging. The private says he doesn't want any help from her. Aono just says she wants to kill all those American bastards and keeps on digging.

Captain Lewis goes in to see Haruko in the hospital watching over her mother. She was the one who wanted to take care of Oba. He asks Haruko about the leader known by the Americans as the fox. She tells him that would be Captain Oba.

Col. Pollard says goodbye to his men. Col. Wessinger is his replacement. Wessinger gets together immediately with Captain Lewis, who tells him that they need to give the Japanese a way out without losing face. The colonel lets him do what he wants, but their time is limited.

The captain goes to the Japanese prisionerll-of-war camp to talk to some of the soldiers. The main group says they will not help the Americans in any way and they leave. Four Japanese men stay behind. One man stands up saying he doesn't want any more unnecessary war and will help the captain.

So now Capt. Lewis produces his own version of leaflets trying to encourage the Japanese to cease resistance and come into the Japanese camp. By plane they drop the leaflets. Some of the soldiers tell the others not to pick up the leaflets because they are just propaganda.

But the staff gets together and closely examines the leaflets. There is a photo on one side of a city with virtually nothing left standing at all. They asks Bito, who is from Tokyo, if this is a photo of Tokyo? He thinks it is Tokyo. Oba asks: "Tokyo turned to rubble?" It's hard to believe.

Oba goes to Oshiro and asks him if he has a man in the American camp that they can trust? Yes, it's the man who lost two children to the Americans. This man signals with a flashlight to bring Oba to the fence of the camp. The man tells Oba his name is Baba.

In the barracks, Oba asks: "The photo on this leaflet is a forgery, isn't it?" The guy helping Capt. Lewis, Mr. Motoki, says he helped make the leaflet and this one of Tokyo was only one of many such photographs of the city -- "images of our homeland destroyed". He then urges Oba to surrender. Oba says they will not surrender. Motoki now tells Oba that everyday huge bombers take off from Saipan to bomb Japanese cities. And there is talk of new, massive bombs being dropped on Japanese cities.

Baba comes outside to speak with Oba. He asks him if he knows of a brother and sister pair named Akira and Emiko? Yes. This makes Baba weep with happiness. He says they are his children. He asks Oba if he would please take care of his children?

Next Haruko sneaks Oba over to sickbay. She shows him over to the bed of the baby that Oba helped safe. He says to the baby: "You made it." But here come the guards looking for Oba. Haruko sends her leader out the back way and he gets away. While climbing around the barbed wire he falls onto the ground. And then he hears a very loud noise. It's those huge bombers he heard about when he was visiting in the barracks. The planes come about ten yards or so above his head.

Baba and Motoki go to see Lewis and Wessinger.  They tell the marines that Oba came into camp to verify or disprove the leaflet photo of Tokyo. Motoki says that he told Oba the photo was real, not a fake. He also says that Oba was very shocked.

Baba now volunteers to go up to the top of the mountain and tell the Japanese there that if they come into camp they will be granted lots of food and medicines.

A Mr. Ito dies on Aono because she doesn't have the right medicines. She goes and complains to Oba. She asks permission to go with him when they go to take the supplies from the base hospital. Oba tells her she can't go. She will leave this task to the men.

The Japanese soldiers grab Baba and bring him to Oba. They call him a traitor and a pawn of the Americans. When he says he has come to ask Oba to surrender, the men throw him to the ground insulting him. When he gets up he just says that he wants his two children back with him. "Is that so wrong?" he asks.  Private Hioriuchi tells Baba that he should have held on to his children a lot harder than he did. The soldiers start pushing him out again. He turns to tell Oba: " If anything were to happen to my children, I will kill you."

As Hiorriuchi starts to leave the camp Aono grabs him. She wants him to escort her to the hospital where she can get the right medicines she needs for her nursing work.

Oba comes to the barbed wire fence to speak with Motoki. At the same time Aono and her helpers enter the camp and head for the hospital. Aono gains access and starts filling up her bag with medicines. Outside the door Hioriuchi sees Motoki go by with the captain and two other fellows.

The group of four goes close to the barbed wired fence and then Motoki throws two bags of medicines and food to Oba and his two men. Motoki asks Oba to surrender, but he says they will fight on. Motoki then tells Oba that actually Captain Lewis is nearby.

Just then Hioriuchi opens up with automatic weapon and fires on Lewis and his two men. The Navajo sergeant is hit. The military police arrive and open up on Hioriuchi. Oba and his men see Hioriuchi hit by two bullets as he goes down. They now open fire on the military police. Hioriuchi now gets a fatal shot to the heart. One of his men tries to kill some Americans in retaliation, but he is shot down very quickly.

Oba is wounded. Aono drops her medicines and picks up the automatic weapon used by Hioriuchi. She fires wildly and gets wounded in return. She hits the ground. After that the firing dies down.

Oba decides to send the civilians to the Americans because they are out of food and medicines. Sergeant Kitami is totally opposed to this. He says he will no longer obey orders, if Oba carries out his plans.

The civilians head down the mountain to the Americans.

Aono is in a hospital bed resting after the doctors patched her up. She still looks as pissed-off as ever. She hears the little Japanese boy crying. She gets up and out of bed. She walks over to where the noise came from and sees a white nurse holding the baby. She comes toward Aono and tries to give the baby to her, but Aono shakes her head no. The nurse ignores that and gives the baby to her.

The emperor's voice recording is played to the Japanese civilians in the camp. "However, it is according to the dictate of time and fate, by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable, that we have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace."

It is reported to Oba that on August 6 in Hiroshima and on August 9 in Nagasaki new weapons were used that destroyed both cities in an instant. And His Imperial Majesty has decreed that the war is over.

And yet neither Oba or his men will come down off the mountain. He does send a message to the Americans that he wants to meet for a talk.

Motoki, Lewis and his two men drive out to meet Oba. Motoki and Lewis come forward to talk. Lewis talks of his two years in Japan. He now says the war is over and they are no longer enemies. All of a sudden a shot rings out and Motoki falls and dies.

The shooter is none other than the gung-ho soldier Sgt. Kitami. He says that he will never surrender and walks back into the forest. Lewis asks Oba if he ordered this? Oba doesn't say anything. He bows to Lewis and then leaves.

Baba tells Haruko that the captain has decided to come down from the mountain. So the women start sewing uniforms together for the men.

Oba calls the men together. They have gotten orders from Imperial Army Major General Umahachi Amou on Pagan Island. Their orders are to surrender immediately. The men start crying. He tells the men: "To face the future and live for tomorrow is now our solemn duty."

The Americans wait for the arrival of Oba and his troops. They hear the voices of the singing and marching Japanese soldiers as they come off the mountain.

Oba takes off his sword and hands it over to the American commander. The commander presents the sword to Captain Lewis, who places it on a table covered by an American flag.

"On December 1, 1945 at the foot of Mount Tapochou on the island of Saipan following 512 days of fighting the war finally ended for captain Sakae Oba and his army of 47."

Captain Lewis praises the captain to his face, but Oba says he did not do anything worth commending.

Captain Oba goes to the shore where Aono holds the baby boy.  She hands the baby over to him and he holds him. Oba says the boy knows nothing of Japan. Aono says she will show him Japan.

 

Very enjoyable film.  Both my wife and I liked it.  The American Captain Lewis came to admire the Japanese Captain Oba who kept up the resistance after the main fighting was over on Saipan and even after the entire war was over.  Lewis tells the captain that he was known as the Fox by the Americans.  Captain Oba was portrayed as a very calm man who was a good leader of the around 250 or so Japanese civilian and military personnel on Saipan.  But Oba was good because he avoided fighting the Americans.  He did not seek a confrontation with the Americans after the main Japanese camp was bombed.  The man who inflicted a lot of damage on the Americans was Private Hioriuchi who was a determined fighter and a man wickedly accurate with his automatic weapon.  In fact, many subordinates of Captain Oba wanted to fight the Americans until they were all dead.  Oba refused to follow this strategy and kept most of the Japanese civilian and military men save until the war finally ended for Oba and his people. 

If the Americans had wanted to wipe out the Japanese, they could have easily done it.  They could have bombed Mount Tapochau so much that there would have been no trees or shrubs to hide the Japanese in the mountains.  Then they could have easily been picked off the remaining Japanese.  The Americans sought a peaceful solution to the conflict and that's what really saved the leftover Japanese on Saipan.

Of the actors, I liked Yutaka Takenouchi as Captain Oba the best.  I didn't care that much for the character of Captain Lewis and his hero worship of the Japanese captain.  If I were in his position I would have been thinking what a bunch of sheep those Japanese are.  They are so unbelievably committed to fighting even after the fighting should have been over.  This put all of the Japanese civilians at risk of death, not to even mention the military men.  Japan was one screwed up country during their war years before and during WWII. 

I liked Mao Inoue as Nurse Aono.  She is very pretty, but she just seemed to glare at people through the entire film.  They should have given her a part where the character was more than just one-dimensional. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

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