Japan's War in Colour
Produced by David Batty
Narrated by Brian Cox
Rhino Home Video, 2003, 94 min., DVD
Japan's War in Colour
by David Batty
Carlton Books, 2004, 160 pages
Japan's war in China and the Pacific comes to life in this documentary made
exclusively with color film along with excerpts from letters, diaries, and other
writings by both ordinary individuals and leaders. The DVD has a companion book
with the same title written by the DVD's producer, David Batty. The film
contains no interviews with survivors or experts, included in many other WWII
documentaries, but rather lets participants express themselves in their
The documentary's 16 chapters cover Japan's war in general chronological
order. The film includes more than just the period from the bombing of Pearl
Harbor to the Emperor's announcement of surrender. The three beginning chapters
present Japan's war with China and the buildup of militarism in Japan prior to
Pearl Harbor, and the three final chapters deal with prisoners of war and the
beginning of the American occupation. The documentary not only touches on
broad trends of Japan's war but also provides personal glimpses through many
quotations from letters and diaries.
The DVD's marketing highlights the color film, much which had not been shown
before. Although the documentary does contain many color segments worthy of note, color
seems to add little to most battle scenes, including kamikaze attacks, other
than reddish-orange flames and bluish skies. A few segments, such as the
European tour of Prince Chichibu and his wife, may have been included more for
their striking color than for their close connection to the documentary's main
theme. Many segments have little color, and much of the color is faded. The
producer's limiting the documentary to only color automatically excluded
possibly clearer and more relevant black-and-white clips.
The narration has a deliberate pacing without excessive commentary that
allows viewers time to consider the images and that allows the letters and
diaries to speak for themselves. The quotations in the documentary cover a vast
range of individuals from government and military leaders all the way to a little girl who
laments that Hanako the elephant must die with the other animals at Tōkyō's Ueno
Zoo due to a shortage of food. A variety of people, most with apparent Japanese
accents, read the quotations.
Excerpts of last letters written by three kamikaze pilots get introduced in
the documentary's five and a half minute chapter on kamikaze. The themes of the
first letter, written by Isao Matsuo, are typical of last letters
written by kamikaze pilots:
Dear parents. Please congratulate me. I have been given a splendid
opportunity to die. The destiny of our homeland hinges on the decisive
battle in the seas to the south where I shall fall like a blossom from a
The documentary incorrectly gives his name as Masuo, which is most probably
an error repeated from Axell and Kase (2002, 140-1), who without attribution
used the translated letter in English first published in Inoguchi and Nakajima
The second letter excerpt written by 22-year-old Army pilot Yoshi Miyagi
raises questions regarding its source:
We the Kamikazes are nothing but robots. If we had listened to those
Japanese who really love their country, we would not now be faced with this
disaster. I know that my death can no longer serve any purpose.
There is no evidence that Yoshi Miyagi died as a kamikaze pilot. His letter
was first published in English in 1956 in The Sun Goes Down, which is an
English translation of Jean Lartéguy's French translation of the Japanese
book Kike Wadatsumi no Koe (Listen to the Voices from the Sea). More
recent Japanese and English editions of Kike Wadatsumi no Koe do not
contain this letter. The Sun Goes Down states he was an Army kamikaze
pilot who died on May 19, 1945. However, Japanese listings of Army kamikaze
pilot deaths  do not mention his name on any date
in 1945. Perhaps the editors of Kike Wadatsumi no Koe removed this letter
from later editions due to questionable authenticity.
In contrast to last letters written by almost all other kamikaze pilots,
Miyagi's letter stands apart as a criticism of his country's leadership.
However, even so, the letter begins with the following words (Lartéguy 1956,
99), "I am very proud of having been chosen as a kamikaze pilot and of belonging
to this corps, which is a symbol of the military spirit of my glorious country."
The letter's last sentence used by the documentary actually contains less words than the
original sentence (Lartéguy 1956, 100), which somewhat changes the meaning, "I
know that no purpose can any longer be served by my death, but I remain proud of
piloting a suicide-plane and it is in this state of mind that I die."
The documentary's final letter excerpt comes from one of the few married
Dearest wife. The happy dream is over. Tomorrow, I will guide my plane
into an enemy ship. I will cross the river into the other world taking some
Yankees with me. When I think of your future, it tears at my heart.
The actual Japanese letter does not have the words "Dearest wife" but rather
only his wife's name Shigeko .
The chapter entitled "Kamikaze" incorrectly states that a special suicide
manual was devised to help members of Japan's special attack corps that included
aircraft, motorboats, and human torpedoes. The film refers to the manual
described in Axell and Kase (2002, 77-83), who devote a chapter in their book,
Kamikaze: Japan's Suicide Gods, to an obscure manual dated May 1945 from
an Army training air base named Shimoshizu near Tokyo. Most kamikaze attacks by
the Navy and Army had already occurred by
the time someone wrote this manual. The four special attack squadrons from
Shimoshizu (i.e., 8th Hakkō Squadron, 12th Hakkō Squadron, 23rd Shinbu Squadron,
62nd Shinbu Squadron) were formed at the base from November 1944 to March 1945,
and the last squadron member died on April 12,1945 ,
long before the manual was published in May 1945. The Navy's Kamikaze Special Attack Corps
would never have used such a manual prepared by the Army, and no survivors who
joined kamikaze squadrons mention such a manual.
The documentary gives the following excerpt from the so-called special
suicide manual never actually used by kamikaze pilots:
Upon sighting the target, aim for a point at the center of the ship. As
you dive, shout at the top of your lungs, "Hissatsu! Kill without fail!"
Just before the collision, it is essential you do not shut your eyes. You
will feel that you're suddenly floating in the air. At that moment, you will
see your mother's face. Then you are no more.
The depiction of Japan's kamikaze operations has several other misleading or
incorrect statements. The film makes it sound like the Japanese High Command
turned to a "desperate new tactic" (i.e., suicide attacks) in November 1944, but
actually in February 1944 the High Command authorized the development of a
variety of suicide weapons. After showing the image of a kamikaze aircraft
crashing into the carrier Essex on November 25, 1944, the narrator states
that now thousands of young men were pressed to volunteer to make the ultimate
sacrifice for their country. Actually, the military called up most young men
about a year before when the government abolished student draft deferment in
One film clip shows the horrifying scene of a swimming Japanese airman, who
had crashed into the sea, blowing himself up with a grenade when an American
destroyer approaches. Although this happens in the documentary's chapter on
kamikaze, there is no indication that the pilot was a member of a
kamikaze squadron. Although the narrator states over 4,000 kamikaze pilots flew
to their deaths, Japanese records indicate the number to be slightly less than
4,000. The documentary indicates that Atsugi Air Base was headquarters to one of
the Imperial Navy's kamikaze squadrons, but no kamikaze squadron made a sortie from
there, and no kamikaze squadron was headquartered or formed there.
The documentary's companion book, also entitled Japan's War in Colour, covers
the same basic material as the film but in much more detail and with still
photos rather than motion pictures. The book includes numerous color photos,
several larger than one page, and the author David Batty also includes a fine
summary history of Japan's war and the events that led up to the war. The history starts with Commodore Perry's
opening of Japan in 1853 and does not reach the bombing of Pearl Harbor until
about halfway through the book. Batty includes a five-page discussion of color
film of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and he also explains the filming of the
atomic bombs dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The book has a four-page section on Japan's kamikaze attacks. One photo shows
four kamikaze pilots bowing (pp. 112-3), but this does not represent an
authentic photo but rather one of the frames of a reenactment filmed at Chōfu
Air Base and a nearby Shintō shrine in December 1945. This staged photo even
shows up on the cover of both the book and the DVD case in the bottom left-hand
corner. The suicide pilots' training manual, never actually used by kamikaze
pilots, gets mentioned in the book just as in the documentary. From the DVD to
the book, the number of kamikaze pilots who died changes to the correct number
of just under 4,000 men. However, the book mentions an incorrect figure of 34
ships sunk by kamikaze, even though kamikaze aircraft actually sank a total of
47 ships .
This war documentary has many emotional moments, both from the images and
from the quoted words. Both the documentary and book provide an excellent
overview of the war from the Japanese perspective. However, the film's section
on kamikaze suffers from several inaccuracies.
1. Sources consulted include Chiran Tokkō (2005,
225-32) and Osuo (2005, 195-217).
2. Chiran Kōjo (1996, 72-3) has the complete
letter in Japanese.
Osuo 2005, 191-2, 195, 200.
47 Ships Sunk by Kamikaze Aircraft.
Axell, Albert, and Hideaki Kase. 2002. Kamikaze: Japan's
Suicide Gods. London: Pearson Education.
Chiran Kōjo Nadeshiko Kai (Chiran Girls High School Nadeshiko
Association), ed. 1996. Gunjō: Chiran tokkō kichi yori
(Deep blue: From Chiran special attack air base). Originally
published in 1979. Kagoshima City: Takishobō.
Chiran Tokkō Irei Kenshō Kai (Chiran Special Attack
Memorial Society), ed. 2005. Konpaku no kiroku: Kyū rikugun tokubetsu
kōgekitai chiran kichi (Record of departed spirits: Former Army Special
Attack Corps Chiran Base). Revised edition, originally published in 2004. Chiran Town, Kagoshima
Prefecture: Chiran Tokkō Irei Kenshō Kai.
Inoguchi, Rikihei, Tadashi Nakajima, with Roger Pineau.
1958. The Divine Wind: Japan's Kamikaze Force in World War II.
Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.
Lartéguy, Jean, ed. 1956. The Sun Goes Down: Last letters
from Japanese suicide-pilots and soldiers. Translated from the French by
Nora Wydenbruck. Published in Japan as Voices from the Sea. London: New
Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kōgekitai no kiroku (rikugun hen)
(Record of special attack corps (Army)). Tōkyō: Kōjinsha.