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DVD Cover

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 own words.

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 cherry tree.

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 (1958, 200-1).

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 [1] 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 kamikaze pilots:

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 [2].

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 [3], 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 September 1943.

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.

Book Cover


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 [4].

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.

3. Osuo 2005, 191-2, 195, 200.

4. 47 Ships Sunk by Kamikaze Aircraft.

Sources Cited

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 English Library.

Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kōgekitai no kiroku (rikugun hen) (Record of special attack corps (Army)). Tōkyō: Kōjinsha.