Wings of Defeat: Kamikaze Docu Stirs Controversy

July 24, 2007–Though ordered to sacrifice their lives by crashing their planes into U.S. warships as Japan battled the invasion in the final months of WWII, some young pilots instead returned alive. The new Japanese documentary “Wings of Defeat” shows that not all the young men trained for the deadly mission embraced it wholeheartedly

Japanese-American director Risa Morimoto sought out former kamikaze after discovering her uncle had been among those prepared to carry out what were called “special attacks.”

Instead of fanatics, she said she met a group of elderly men who confessed their mixed emotions about the past. “I wanted to live,” Kazuo Nakajima, one of the now elderly vets tells the filmmakers. “I didn’t want to die.” Another survivor even criticized the venerable emperor. “They were told they were killing madmen, they were lied to,” producer Linda Hoaglund said in a news conference.

The film, “Wings of Defeat,” has been shown to some surviving crewmen of the U.S.S. Drexler, a destroyer sunk by kamikaze at the end of the war.

Producer and Morimoto have arranged for two U.S. survivors to meet some of the former kamikaze in Japan next week.

“We thought we were fighting and giving our lives for our families and our comrades,” said Masaaki Kobayashi, 79, after watching the film with a group of his former peers.

Revisionist History

The docu’s release coincides with controversy over efforts by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and others to shed what they consider a masochistic attitude to Japan’s wartime past.

Lawmakers from the southern island of Okinawa–the site of a battle that killed some 200,000 civilians and soldiers–criticized the government for toning down textbooks references to soldiers ordering civilians to commit suicide rather than surrender to the U.S. in the war.

Abe also drew criticism by denying that the military or government had hauled Asian women away to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers before and during the war, though he said he stands by a government apology to the women who suffered.

Many Japanese say wartime reality should be taught to a younger generation too young to remember.

The documentary is being shown two months after a feature film on the kamikaze by Tokyo’s nationalist governor Shintaro Ishihara, celebrating the young kamikaze as heroes.

Vice-Admiral Takejiro Onishi conceived of the kamikaze strategy when Japan was losing the Philippines to U.S. forces. The first attack took place off the coast of the island of Leyte in the Philippines in 1944. Its “success” inspired Onishi to recruit other young men for suicide missions. About 4,000 kamikaze pilots died and 34 U.S. ships were sunk in the last few months of the war, according to the filmmakers.