Under the Flag of the Rising Sun (1972)




Director:     Kinji Fukasaku.

Starring:     Sachiko Hidari, Tetsuro Tamba, Noboru Mitani, Sanae Nakahara, Kanemon Nakamura.

Japan wrestles with its brutal military performances in World War II.



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

The film opens 26 years after World War II with the emperor of Japan paying homage at the National Monument to Fallen Soldiers to the nationís 3.1 million war dead.

The year is 1971 and Saki Togashi is applying once again for war widowís benefits in the name of her husband Sgt. Katsuo Togashi. She has applied every year since 1952, when the Survivor Benefits Law went into effect. The reason why the government refuses to give her the benefits is that her husband was executed for desertion in the face of the enemy in New Guinea in August 1945. But there is no evidence for what really happened to her husband. There is not even any evidence that there was a court-martial. The real reason she keeps applying is not so much for the money, but because she wants to know the truth and believes that her husbandís spirit will never rest until the truth is known.

She was married in 1942 and she had only been married six months before her husband received his draft notice. After he left, she gave birth to her daughter Tomoko.

A new supervisor at the Ministry of Welfare tells her that if she wants the benefits, she will have to find some evidence that her husband was not a deserter. To help her he and his assistant give her the names of four survivors from her husbandís military unit.

And so Saki becomes a detective trying to track down the truth. She hears many different stories along the way, parts of which are lies, omissions or shadings of the truth.

Along the way, we see the horrors of war. We also see war crimes committed by the Japanese. And we see the Japanese letting their troops starve to death rather than surrender to the American or Australian troops fighting on New Guinea.

The men she talked to were:

1) PFC Tsogo Terajima. He gives her the background of the unit. Their unit was providing the reinforcements for the Japanese troops killed during the fighting on New Guinea. Their convoy of ships sailed out from La Paul, but as it crossed the Dampier Straits, Allied air planes sunk 3 destroyers and 7 transport ships with the loss of 2,500 tons of weapons and ordnance and 3,600 men drowned. Only 800 soldiers actually made it to shore.

2) Coporal Tomotaka Akiba described in depth the terrible conditions the Japanese soldiers found themselves in. The men were starving and would eat anything, including every insect they came across. The men would fight each other to grab and eat a rat.

3) former military police sergeant Nobuyuki Ochi goes farther in his description of the terrible situation for the troops. He recalls one sergeant who killed and ate his buddy.

4) 2nd Lt. Tadahiko Ohashi. He does not have much to add about her husband, but he does describe the difficulty of his post-war adjustment. He also has brief flash backs of important political events in postwar Japan: Bloody May Day; rearmament; massacre; the radical rightist Mashima; and the present class-A war criminal serving as Prime Minister. He currently is a professor and the students are protesting with signs such as: US bases out of Japan; Support the fight against Narita Airport; and Anti-War. He does describe a war crime committed by the major.

5) Major Takeo Senda. He evaded prosecution as a war criminal and became a wealthy businessman.

She learns from Major Senda that Terajima did not tell the entire truth. So Saki has to go back to Terajima, who tells her a bit more of the truth. He also adds that the former military police sergeant Ochi also left something out of the story.

After all her research, does Saki finally have the truth? And will she be satisfied with it, if she gets it?

The film was seen as an anti-war film in Japan, which it is. But I was disappointed that no one mentioned that war as conducted by the Nazis and the Japanese was even more brutal than usual. There is no recognition that Japan was a warrior society with warrior values. And because of this warrior spirit, the Japanese became brutal and unforgiving in war. The Nazis and Japanese were guilty of thousands of war crimes, very few of which had the perpetrators punished.

Yes, the Japanese paid a terrible price for their starting the war with the United States and other countries and it is important to realize the full extent of that price. But it is also important for Japan to realize the full extent of their terrible crimes against humanity and to question and change those aspects that gave rise to this brutality.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

Historical Background:


1942 (February)  --  the Japanese capture the town of Rabaul on New Britain. 

Japanese capture the northern part of New Guinea.

1942 (July) to 1943 (January)  -- the Kokoda Campaign (running from just outside Port Moresby on the Coral Sea for 60-100 kilometers through the Owen Stanley Ranges to Kokoda and the coastal lowlands beyond by the Solomon Sea).  

1942 (July)  --  the Japanese invade Papua New Guinea.

1942 (July 29)  --  the Japanese capture Kokoda. 

1943 (September)  -- US Army lands on Eastern Lae; Australians attack Western Lae.  The Japanese army abandons Lae; 2,200 starve in the mountains.

1943 (October)  --  the US attacks Finschahafen; Australians land on Capeant.

1943 (December)  --  Allied forces land on western New Britain. 

1944 (January)  --  the US lands on Cape Gunbi; the Japanese retreat to Madang; 3,500 Japanese starve in the mountains.

1944 (April)  --  the Japanese are defeated at Hansa, Wewak and Aitape.

Allied operations continued into 1945. 


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