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The World at War
Volume 22 - Japan: 1941-1945
Volume 23 - Pacific: February 1942 - July 1945
HBO Video, 1982, 52 min. each volume, Video

Many consider The World at War, which Britain's ITV television network first aired weekly from October 1973 to May 1974, to be the definitive World War II documentary series. The powerful visual images, numerous interviews with participants on both sides, and well-researched narrative earned this documentary many accolades. The renowned actor Sir Lawrence Olivier narrates the history in an evenhanded manner by giving the views of each side. The 26 one-hour videos encompass the entire scope of the war, but only five of them cover the war with Japan. Kamikaze attacks receive little attention, with two videos having only a three-minute segment each.

Volume 23, Pacific: February 1942 - July 1945, includes almost no details on the history of Japan's kamikaze operations, and it has only this short summary of the results, "They did severe damage, but failed" [1]. However, this video contains a very interesting interview with Naval Commander Takashi Nakajima, flight operations officer for the first kamikaze corps formed in the Philippines. He explains the motivation of the pilots:

As a commander I'm often asked whether I went through hell in sending out these pilots, but actually the opposite is the case. We had a lot of pilots who volunteered, but it was only a very few who could leave on one attack. And so it was more difficult to choose the selected few. All the other volunteers said, "Send me! Send me!" So it's difficult to ask these people not selected to wait until another day. On the other hand, those taking part in the day's attack were in very high spirits, and so there's no difficulty in sending these men out. But unlike an ordinary attack, these kamikaze pilots, once they took off, they never came back. And so there was this sadness in knowing that the people you were sending out you will never see again. [2]

Volume 22, Japan: 1941-1945, contains several vivid images of kamikaze planes that either hit ships or fell flaming into the sea. However, the narrative on kamikaze attacks provides only a limited history with few details. The documentary gives a distorted view of the timing of the attacks, with the implication in the narrative being that most of them occurred right before the Allied invasion of Okinawa on April 1, 1945. No reference is made to the extensive kamikaze attacks in the Philippines from October 1944 to January 1945. Also, the video does not explain that more than half of Japan's kamikaze attacks took place after April 1, 1945. This volume does contain a tragic story told by a U.S. Navy lieutenant, who tells of a gunner who reached his breaking point after his area had been hit two or three times by kamikazes. He yelled, "It's hot today," and then jumped overboard, never to be found.

The World at War deserves its many honors for excellence as a visual documentary of World War II. On the topic of Japan's kamikaze operations, the documentary series has a couple of interesting interviews with a Japanese commander and an American soldier directly involved in the action. However, the documentary's short sections on kamikaze attacks do not contain enough details to allow a real understanding of the feelings of the pilots and the reasons for the Japanese military's use of suicide attacks.


1. At 39:30 in Volume 23

2. From 38:15 to 39:10 in Volume 23