Thursday, April 23, 2009

Movie Review: Attack Squadron

Attack Squadron (Japanese, 1963)

Catch this one if you can, but it won’t be easy. These heroic Japanese forces movies are carefully hidden from American eyes. No sense in upsetting big brother. Much of the genre that was produced during the war was actually destroyed.

A Toho product, I think. All of the usual suspects are here: Takashi Shimura in a small role as an admiral looking for a solution to the problem of the American advance; Toshiro Mifune gets a lot of screen time as an officer with an idea that he thinks is better than the Kamikaze idea; Akihiko Hirata (Dr. Shirazawa in the original Godzilla) as a junior officer; and Mie Hama as an occasional beauty-relief.

The better idea is the creation of special attack squadrons of elite flyers to use in carefully focused ambush-style attacks. There are, of course, some historical problems with this tactic. It’s 1945, and the really talented Japanese flyers had already been killed off almost to a man. Also, in 1945, the Japanese intelligence network was not capable of arranging the hoped for ambush attacks. But no matter. I am a great admirer of the Japanese enlisted ranks in World War II, certain excesses notwithstanding, and it’s nice to see them shine for a change.

The performance of any Japanese combat force is supernaturally successful. Early on, the pilots are in the Solomons with no planes. They fight against American ground forces as infantry. When they throw grenades, they throw them about a quarter of a mile with spectacular results. American troops are thrown twenty-five feet in the air by the explosions. Grenades thrown at Japanese forces, on the other hand, explode within a few feet with no effect.

Supernatural is the word. A group of Japanese pilots “borrow” an American P.T. boat and sail it from the Solomons to the Philippines on one tank of gas in a Hanukah style display of supernatural economy.

The movie is full of good aerial combat special effects. The attack squadrons do very well in these dogfights, mercilessly splashing Corsairs, Hellcats and Mustangs. (The models are very accurate.) In one scene, a few of the pilots are being ferried to the main base, inexplicably they are flying in a DC-3 with Japanese markings. They are set upon by two Marine Corsairs, a certain death sentence for all aboard. A lone Zero suddenly appears and splashes both of the Corsairs within thirty seconds. Godzilla level suspension of disbelief is required for these scenes.

The first of the ambush attacks goes very well. Knowing somehow that a large American air attack will hit their base, the attack squadron is positioned to take them on their way back to the carriers. The American force is destroyed, with no apparent losses to the Japanese force. The second ambush goes slightly less well, but is still very successful.

The final source of discouragement is not the failure of the ambush attacks. Much is made of the final voyage of the battleship Yamato, which was dispatched without air cover in April, 1945 to attack the American landing forces at Okinawa and was sunk unceremoniously by U.S. Navy planes from about twenty carriers. After some model shots of the heroic Yamato under sail, the sinking is accomplished off-screen. Hearing of the loss, the pilots of the attack squadron decide that it’s time to switch to Kamikaze attacks on American bombers.

It’s a nice little movie, though, and Mie Hama is sure pretty in her few scenes. Catch it if you can.

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