Lorelei: The Witch of the Pacific Ocean
Director: Shinji Higuchi
Producer: Chihiro Kameyama
Cast: Koji Yakusho as Shinichi Masami (I-507 commander), Satoshi Tsumabuki as
Yukito Origasa (mini-sub pilot), Shinichi Tsutsumi as Ryokitsu Asakura
(high-ranking staff officer at naval headquarters), and Yu Kashii as Paula
Atsuko Ebner (Lorelei system operator)
Fuji Television Network, 2005, 128 min., DVD
The American Pacific Fleet soundly beat the Japanese during
World War II, but in this alternate history the Japanese Navy strikes back with
a powerful submarine to prevent the dropping of an atomic bomb on Tokyo. A
beautiful young "witch" with supernatural powers joins the sub's crew
on a suicidal mission to save Japan. This film is based on the 2002 novel of
over 1,000 pages entitled Shuusen no Lorelei (Lorelei at war's end) by
Harutoshi Fukui. The characters in this action thriller portray differing attitudes toward Japan's
wartime suicide attacks, but the film highlights the heroism of the sub's crew
who undertake a suicide mission against the American Pacific Fleet to ensure
a future for the younger generation in Japan.
In this movie the Japanese Navy received an experimental
submarine, designated the I-507, from Germany near the end of the war. Although
the I-507 has large twin guns, the sub's real power lies in a
tracking device called Lorelei, named after a mythological German maiden whose
irresistible songs enticed boatmen to their death. A 17-year-old girl named
Paula powers the Lorelei system, which can display ships and underwater
topography for 120 miles. Nazi scientists performed human modification
experiments on Paula and gave her countless injections to harness her latent psychic
abilities so she could serve as the submarine's eyes.
After an American B-29 drops an atomic bomb that destroys
Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the 70 men on the I-507 submarine represent
Japan's last hope to stop another atomic bomb. The sub leaves the next day on
August 7 from Yokosuka Naval Base and proceeds toward Tinian in the Mariana Islands with the
mission to sink the American ship carrying an atomic bomb. However,
Nagasaki gets bombed on August 9, and the captain finds out
through Paula's mind-reading ability that the Americans plan to drop a third
atomic bomb on Tokyo. The B-29 carrying the bomb will depart on August 11 at 6:30 a.m. from
Tinian, so the I-507 rushes there to stop the plane from departing on its
mission to annihilate Japan's capital.
The film's villain is Ryokitsu Asakura, a high-ranking staff
officer at naval headquarters in Tokyo. He secretly negotiated with the
Americans to give them the Lorelei system in exchange for an atomic bomb to be
dropped on Tokyo. Asakura believes Japan has lost its way, so the only
way to correct the situation is to wipe out the corrupt core in Tokyo and start anew. He plants armed men on the I-507
so they can take command once the submarine nears the point where it will be
delivered over to the Americans. After the I-507's crewmembers successfully
wrestle control back from the conspirators, Asakura shoots himself in the head
in front of several admirals at naval headquarters.
The I-507, as it proceeds from Japan to Tinian, encounters
typical troubles found in wartime submarine movies such as dodging depth
charges and torpedoes, restoring lost power, and getting unstuck from the
seafloor. The film opens on July 18, 1945, when the I-507 launches torpedoes
and destroys an American sub. The crewmembers of the American destroyer Fleischer
witness this destruction, and the very same destroyer improbably encounters the
I-507 three separate times on its five-day trip from Japan to Tinian. The film
ends with a present-day Japanese writer conducting an interview with Eric
Minot, who served on the Fleischer's bridge during the ship's encounters
with the I-507. The writer tries to find out more about what happened to the
I-507 since he has obtained an old photo of the sub's crew, but Minot says nothing was
ever found of the sub or what happened to its crew.
The I-507's captain, Lieutenant Commander Shinichi Masami, strongly opposed suicide attacks promoted by the Navy's leadership since he believed it
was pointless to throw away the lives of young men. During the trip to Tinian, he makes clear to the two kaiten
(human torpedo) pilots that there will be no suicide missions from his ship.
However, despite Masami's beliefs, he accepts Asakura's order to command the I-507's
suicide mission since it has a chance to prevent more death and suffering from
another atomic bomb.
Just before Asakura commits suicide in Tokyo, he taunts Masami over the radio
that now he will have to deploy the suicide tactics that he so despises.
The two kaiten pilots aboard the I-507 cannot understand the
captain's opposition to suicide tactics. They think that they will be asked to
carry out suicide missions on kaiten launched from the submarine, but they
soon find out that they will be used as pilots for the Lorelei mini-sub
attached to the I-507 with an umbilical wire used to transmit images from Paula
on the mini-sub to the projection device in the mother sub's control room.
Yukito Origasa, one of the kaiten pilots, begs Captain Masami to allow him to
ram the enemy for the sake of his family who all perished in an American
bombing, but Masami rejects such a rash tactic.
Origasa and Paula
Chatting on Sub's Deck
Much like the final suicidal mission of the battleship Yamato
when sunk by American planes on the way to Okinawa in April 1945, the I-507's
mission can be considered suicidal. An American sailor refers to the sub's
attack on the enemy fleet at Tinian as "certainly suicidal," and the
crew apparently all perished. The film depicts the courage of such an attack
since the crew "sacrificed everything to protect what they
cherished." Captain Masami emphasizes that it will be a voluntary mission
to destroy the plane planning to take off from Tinian, and he stresses that men
who decide not to participate still had a worthy mission in rebuilding Japan.
However, even he is surprised when 25 men of his crew of 70 depart for a
Japanese-held island to later return to Japan rather than participate in the
desperate mission to stop Tokyo from being bombed.
War and death seem to overwhelm Paula by paralyzing her
nervous system, and she passes out every time the I-507 attacks the enemy while
using the Lorelei system. When the kaiten pilot Origasa first sees her in the mini-sub, she has
a gun to her head. He replies to the captain after his
refusal to allow ramming attacks, "It's a human weapon, just like a
kaiten." Ultimately the sub's commander decides to utilize Paula in the
attack to stop the third atomic bomb but only after she volunteers. However, he tries to minimize her agony as the I-507 dodges the U.S.
fleet to get into position to shoot down the plane carrying the bomb.
The entire film puts militaristic Japan in a favorable light
and casts doubts on American motives and military strength. This alternate
history focuses on death and destruction caused by the first two atomic bombs,
and the movie portrays nameless American leaders as willing to drop an atomic
bomb on Tokyo just to get their hands on the Lorelei system. As American B-29s
drop the bombs, a former Japanese ambassador works toward a peace settlement
and the top Japanese Navy leaders support peace negotiations. Unlike actual
history, the I-507 destroys two American subs and two destroyers without Japan
suffering any casualties. Even on the subject of human experimentation, the
film casts blame on the Germans with no mention of Japan's own human experiments by
Unit 731 in Manchuria.
The movie contains several plot gaps and inconsistencies,
some which may have arisen from trying to condense a book of over 1,000 pages
into a two-hour film. For example, although Asakura and his accomplices claim that the
infallible Lorelei system will shift the balance of power even more so than
atomic weapons, the human-based system breaks down quickly when actually put to
a battle test. In another example, Asakura hands over the valuable I-507 submarine to Masami, but
it seems more prudent to have had one of Asakura's allies take the submarine to
be handed over to the Americans. The I-507 seems to operate in a vacuum on its
mission to save Japan, with no mention of other Japanese military units. Even American control of the air and sea seems
to be ignored when Origasa and Paula enjoy the sun and chat casually for several
minutes on the sub's deck.
Koji Yakusho, who starred in Shall We Dance?
(1996) and other major films, performs convincingly as the submarine's
commander. The rest of the cast, including Americans aboard the destroyer,
generally deliver strong performances, but the acting of the two youngest crew
members (Origasa and Paula) seems forced. The battle scenes and external
submarine shots obviously rely on computer graphics, but they generally have
enough realism to not detract from the film's plot.
The altered history in this action film not only highlights the Japanese view
of themselves as war victims but also portrays Japan's Imperial Navy in a heroic
light. Lorelei depicts the courage of those who volunteered for suicide
attacks to sacrifice themselves in order to protect their loved ones.