Thursday, March 08, 2007

Yamato (Junya Sato, 2005)

Yamato (Junya Sato, 2005)
Rating: 6.4

In class we discussed the reemergence of hypermasculinization within Japanese contemporary films and especially within the war film genre. When watching Yamato I couldn’t help but think about symbols of hypermasculinization. For starters there are very few female characters in the film. Aside from Uchida’s daughter during the present time narrative, Taeko and the mothers of Kamio and Nishi are the only females I recall, and they are really just one dimensional characters who are dependent upon the money their sons send home. The Yamato itself is a giant phallic symbol containing 3,000 men and various other phallic symbols (canons, machine guns, bullets, shells, missiles, etc.). The soldiers are depicted as noble men who willingly sacrifice their lives for the greater good of their country. The filmmaker in fact beats us over the head with this theme. We see 15 year old boys joining the fight and even Taeko volunteering to work in an ammunition factory. In one scene a soldier who has been pardoned to return home turns down his opportunity, in another the group of soldiers pledge “we are fully prepared to give our lives.” One of my favorite moments depicting such dedication took place during the Battle of Leyte when the wounded soldiers were using their crutches to mimic firing guns at the enemy planes. Before the final battle at Okinawa, when the Japanese have basically conceded that the Yamato will be a a necessary sacrifice towards the war effort in order to prevent even more death, Mariwaki delivers a speech saying “defeat brings understanding, and is necessary to save Japan.” The emphasis on cooperation for the greater good is emphasized through shot compositions as well. A lot of shots include groups of soldiers rather than singled out individuals. For instance when the soldiers go on leave, the camera isn’t focused on Kamio or Nishi, but rather a long shot is employed showing a group of about ten men. We see this same technique throughout, including when the young men are huddled together in boats and getting their first glimpse of the massive ship and staring at it in awe.
Each of the major characters in the film sacrifice more than just their lives. Uchida sticks up for bullied cadets, and sneaks aboard the Yamato and continues to fight despite losing his eye. Kamio sacrifices his youth and leaves his family behind to join the war effort. He also takes the blame for a mistake another cadet made to prevent the entire group from being punished. To coincide with this noble ideology or war and sacrifice, the musical score is overtly romanticized and melodramatic as well. All of these techniques used to glorify the Japanese defeat helps to explain to the spectator as well as to the characters, Kamio and Uchida’s daughter the importance of the bonds these men formed, the noble group sacrifices they made together, and why the anniversary celebration of the sinking of the Yamato is so important.

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