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The Cockpit: Kamikaze Stories
Written by Leiji Matsumoto
Produced by Tatsumi Yamashita, Toshio Hagiwara, and Haruo Noguchi
Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Episode #1), Takashi Imanishi (#2), and Ryōsuke Takahashi (#3)
Urban Vision, 1993, 90 min., Video

The three short episodes in this animation video contain a strong anti-war message. The heroes in the episodes exhibit courage and honor as they strive to accomplish what they perceive to be their duty. Although each story shows battles near the end of the World War II, the settings, style, and characters vary greatly. The title of The Cockpit: Kamikaze Stories is a misnomer, since only the second episode involves Japanese kamikaze pilots, and the other two episodes do not even involve suicide attacks. Also, the last episode does not have a cockpit, since it tells the story of two soldiers on a motorcycle with sidecar. This video deals with war, but it focuses on the human perspective rather than the machines used for fighting. However, the video also contains realistic animation of the planes and motorcycles used in combat scenes.

Three different directors created the video's episodes based on manga (Japanese comic) stories written by Leiji Matsumoto. The original Japanese version of this video came out in 1993, and the dubbed English version reviewed on this page was released in 1999. Each episode lasts less than 25 minutes, and the video contains short interviews with each director after his episode.

The first episode, "Stratospheric Currents," tells the story of a German pilot who gets branded a coward for surviving a fierce battle with British planes despite his previous exemplary record. Notwithstanding the incident, he gets selected to escort a plane carrying the world's first atomic bomb, which has been developed by a German scientist with whose daughter the pilot previously had a love interest. The fighter pilot lets a British plane get through to destroy the transport plane with the bomb, and the scientist, and his daughter also perish in the attack. Although he will carry the burden of disgrace for the rest of his life because he did not protect the transport plane, he believes he chose the right course of action since he prevented mass murder by the bomb.

The second episode, "Sonic Thunder Attack Team," gives the story of a young pilot of an ōka, a "human bomb" launched from underneath a mother plane and powered by rocket engines. On August 5, 1945, this ōka pilot named Nogami survives by parachuting out of his plane when attacked by American fighters. Although ashamed to be saved since so many of his comrades perished, he gets another chance to make an attack on the next day. When the plane carrying his ōka gets attacked and catches fire, a Japanese plane makes a suicide crash into the American fighter ready to shoot down his mother plane and ōka. Nogami's ōka gets launched, and he crashes it into an American aircraft carrier. The carrier captain receives news of the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima just before his ship explodes.

Ōka Attached
Under Mother Plane

Nogami's squadron leader and comrades make several direct comments about the ōka suicide attack. A couple of men in his squadron give their opinions, "We're carrying someone with us who's doomed to die. It's horrible." "Whoever came up with the idea of committing suicide in the ōka has got to be crazier than we are." The squadron leader explains, "Any of us could die in this war. It's whether or not we die with honor that matters. That's why they came up with the idea of the human bomb in the first place" [1]. Nogami says he can accept that he has to sacrifice so the rest can live. Although the characters make several comments on the morality of the ōka, the viewer does not get a chance to understand why Nogami has such motivation to ride the ōka to death.

In the same way the first episode mentions Germany producing the world's first atomic bomb, this episode also has several inaccuracies. The last attempted ōka attack occurred on June 22, 1945, not on August 6 (Hagoromo Society 1973, 97). An ōka never hit an American aircraft carrier during the war, but ōka weapons did sink a battleship and damage eight other ships (O'Neill 1999, 160). An ōka pilot who went down in the sea near Okinawa would never have been able to make another sortie the next day, since the Japanese mother planes with ōka missiles did not depart from Okinawa but rather from Kyūshū, the southernmost main island of Japan.

The third episode, "Steel Dragoon," shows two Japanese Army soldiers get shot down as the younger one tries to complete his promise to bring back reinforcements to his comrades, even though this mission is impossible since his former base has already been occupied by the Americans. The Japanese soldiers ride a motorcycle with sidecar, and they encounter an American motorcyclist along the way. The older Japanese soldier raced motorcycles before the war, so he wins a battle with the skilled American cyclist. The Japanese soldier gives the following reason for letting him live, "He's too good of racer. It would be a shame to kill him" [2]. The plot of this episode and the soldiers' reasons for fighting to their death seem shallow in comparison to the first two episodes. Also, one Japanese soldier introduced in the first part of the episode disappears from the story without explanation.

Although this video does not accurately depict certain historical facts of the war, the three episodes do successfully show the soldiers' human perspective and the war's tragedy. The "Sonic Thunder Attack Team" episode gives viewers various criticisms of the ōka weapon, but the director does not delve into the reasons that led the Japanese military to develop the weapon or into the motivations that led Japanese youths to sacrifice their lives to defend their country.


1. Quotations in this paragraph occur from 9:15 to 9:50 in "Sonic Thunder Attack Team."

2. At 18:00 in "Steel Dragoon"

Sources Cited

Hagoromo Society of Kamikaze Divine Thunderbolt Corps Survivors. 1973. The Cherry Blossom Squadrons: Born to Die. Edited and supplemented by Andrew Adams. Translated by Nobuo Asahi and the Japan Tech Co. Los Angeles: Ohara Publications.

O'Neill, Richard. 1999. Suicide Squads: The Men and Machines of World War II Special Operations. Originally published in 1981. London: Salamander Books.