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Gekkō no Natsu (Summer of the Moonlight Sonata)
by Tsuneyuki Mōri
Originally published in 1993 by Chōbunsha
Kōdansha, 1995, 237 pages

Over two million people have seen the 1993 film Gekkō no Natsu (Summer of the Moonlight Sonata), which tells the story of two kamikaze pilots who visit an elementary school in the early summer of 1945 to play the grand piano there before they depart on their final mission. This book by Tsuneyuki Mōri, who also wrote the movie script, has the same basic plot as the film. However, Mōri describes this book as a "documentary novel," which means much historical background information on special attack forces has been included in the book, whereas the film covers this only briefly. Even though this edition of the novel was published 1995, Mōri wrote the book in 1991 prior to the release of the film (p. 225), and it was first published in April 1993 by Chōbunsha. The author has also written several other documentaries, plays, and novels concerning issues related to World War II and the postwar period.

After the 1945 visit by the two kamikaze pilots to Tosu Elementary School in Saga Prefecture in order to play the grand piano there, the book then relates the lengthy investigations of a local reporter and a Tokyo-based documentary producer to find the answers to three main questions. First, who were the two kamikaze pilots who visited Tosu in 1945? Second, why does a man named Shinsuke Kazama, who may be one of the pilots, refuse to talk to reporters about his wartime experiences? Finally, why were kamikaze pilots sent to the Shinbu Barracks [1] located in Fukuoka Prefecture? Whereas the film answers these three mysteries rather quickly, the book reveals the answers only gradually as the reporter and the documentary producer interview various people. For example, the identity of the pilots is not confirmed until about three quarters of the way through the book, when Kazama tells the documentary producer that he and his companion, Mitsuhiko Unno, visited Tosu in 1945. Unno died in a kamikaze mission on the way to Okinawa, but Kazama survived because he returned to Chiran Air Base after his plane had engine trouble.

After returning to Chiran, Kazama was ordered to report to the Shinbu Barracks in Fukuoka Prefecture. A staff officer interrogated him there and questioned the truth of his story that his squadron commander had ordered him to return because of his plane's engine trouble. Kazama was placed in confinement in the Shinbu Barracks and not allowed to have any contact with the outside world, including his family. The Army used this facility to detain kamikaze pilots who had returned from suicide missions even though the rest of their squadrons did not come back. More than forty pilots were locked up there without outside contact, probably because the Army did not want to have any negative publicity of failures among the kamikaze pilots. The existence of the Shinbu Barracks did not get revealed to the public until many years after the end of the war.

The author states that the names have been changed in order to protect the privacy of the kamikaze pilots still living. The novel is based on a true story told by Utako Ueno, a former teacher at Tosu Elementary School who heard the pilots when they played the piano in 1945. When she heard in 1989 that the school planned to dispose of the grand piano, she gave a talk at a school assembly to explain its historical significance, which led to its restoration. Since the book is fictional, it is difficult to say with certainty how much of the rest of the story is based on historical facts. However, the existence of the Shinbu Barracks has been documented by other authors (for example, Takaki 1973, 98-100).

Gekkō no Natsu (Summer of the Moonlight Sonata) ends with the second visit of Kazama to Tosu Elementary School, where he meets again the teacher who listened to the two pilots play the piano 45 years before. The film has much more emotional impact than this documentary novel, but the book provides many additional details about the history of the two pilots and of the Army's special attack corps. In 2003, Tsuneyuki Mōri wrote the script for a drama CD based on the book.


1. Shinbu is the name of the Japanese Army's air corps that made suicide attacks. The name Kamikaze historically referred only to the Japanese Navy's air corps that made suicide attacks, but now this name is commonly used, especially outside Japan, for both Army and Navy pilots who carried out suicide missions.

Source Cited

Takagi, Toshirō. 1973. Tokkō kichi Chiran (Chiran, special attack force base). Tōkyō: Kadokawa Shoten.