The Absolute Supremacy of Japanese WW2 Movies

I think most modelers are also movie buffs.  That is certainly the case with the builders I know. And, with us modelers, our level of movie fandom is typically beyond “casual interest” and probably somewhere at the “Film School Drop Out” level.

I love movies and I love modeling subjects relating to the Pacific War.  So I must love movies set in that time and place, right?  Well….the truth is that the Hollywood Pacific War movies have generally let me down.  However, some recent movies from Japanese have impressed.

When I speak of the “supremacy” of Japanese WW2 movies, I am not speaking of technical accuracy issues. Frankly, I really don’t care about these things so long as the inaccuracy does not distract from the film.  When a tank oriented movie uses an “incorrect” mark of Sherman or a has “dressed” up a tank to look like another…its really not worth pointing out.  I’m not that guy…


What I mean is that the scenes in the movie are well done, the movie is put together in a coherent way.  I also want some level of authenticity.  So yeah, no “Pearl Harbor” but I do not want to watch a hokey docu-drama.

I understand that writers and directors need to take liberties with movies for a variety of reasons. While we may all be small “e” experts on various historical snippets gleaned from books or documentaries, few of us were actually there and know for sure what happened during a battle or a war.  More importantly, movies are primarily a business and producers actually want people to actually watch them. A perfectly accurate historical account of the battle of Midway would be of keen interest to a few thousand people (including me).  However, movie producers need to reach millions to recoup their investment and (hopefully) be called upon to make another movie in the future.

What I am saying is that, as an actual FILM, recent Japanese movies are far superior to the tried-and-true Hollywood “war movie”.  Some examples:

Midway and Tora Tora Tora.

What can I say?  These were closer to the ‘docu-drama’ and were products of their time.  I remember being very entertained by TTT as a kid and the movie has aged nicely.  There was certainly an effort to get the details right (given the knowledge at the time these films were made).


It is a Nick Cage film, the less said the better.

Empire of the Sun.

I saw this one as a teen and really enjoyed it.  I suppose its more of a survival movie set in the far east during WW2.  But there sure are some exciting aerial elements to this movie and a memorable scene involving the main character and some Zero pilots.

Pearl Harbor.

This movie was so bad that it is difficult to describe to anyone who has not seen it.  That said, despite how bad it was and how it was critically and deservedly panned, it also made an absolute ton of money and was nominated for awards (which says a lot about awards shows).

I think the main reason for the disappointment was because there was such potential to make an incredible movie.  I was thinking this would be the “Saving Private Ryan” of the Pacific War.

Instead we got a dumbed down “Tora Tora Tora” that had elements of “Here to Eternity” thrown in.  Hell, why not throw in some musical numbers from “South Pacific?”   All this potential was squandered on a misguided attempt to make a showcase for Ben Affeck’s “talent” with a completely unnecessary love story grafted on.  As a Pacific War movie, you can’t get any worse and yet many many people paid good money to see it.  So what do I know?

Flags of our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima.

Flags of our Fathers was an excellent book and I think out of all of the Hollywood films on the subject of the Pacific War, this and the Thin Red Line are the best ones – but for different reasons.  I think it captured the right amount of tension in the fighting sequences.  My only nitpick and it’s a stylistic one is that I have grown very tired of the “washed out” look.  I understand it is an art thing and is meant to put the viewer into an “old time” photo.  While it seemed to work well in Saving Private Ryan, for whatever reason it was very distracting in Flags of our Fathers.  But what Flags of our Fathers got right – it got very right: the BIG sequences showing the might of the 7th fleet, Corsairs and the landings.  Yes its all CGI but it was great CGI.

Hacksaw Ridge.

Definitely not my favorite.  I thought the non-action scenes were hamfisted and left a lot to be desired.  The casting of Vince Vaughn was big distraction for me.  However, I felt the action scenes were very powerful.  That said, some have told me they felt the exact opposite.

Thin Red Line

Oh I really want to like this movie and it probably has the best cinematography of any movie, not just war movies.  None of that “washed out” effect – this movie is shot beautifully.  There are some iconic scenes that will be cribbed by all future directors and the tension is incredible before and during the action sequences.  But wow… there are some very strange sequences injected into this movie to humanize the soldiers.  It is also very long and it feels long.

We don’t get a lot of first run Japanese movies in the local theater so one has to be creative in viewing the following films.  They are generally available on ebay or Amazon and sometimes one can find them on the internet.  They are well worth a watch:

Isoroku (also known as The Admiral over here)


I watched this one fairly recently.  It was subtitled and the text probably didn’t have the nuances of the actual dialogue (read: somewhat hokey) but wow… the exterior shots were amazing.

I think the actor playing Yamamoto was excellent.  I really got the feeling this man was dead set against this conflict with the USA but was duty bound to do what he could for his country and his navy.  The final scene was the reenactment of a well known mission.  Because I felt something for this character I was moved by the way this last scene was was shot.  It really stood out.  I won’t spoil anything but here is a taste of the air sequences at the beginning of the movie.

Here are some scenes:

The Eternal Zero (Also called The Fighter Pilot)

I watched this with subtitles so it is hard to say whether the actual dialogue was as stilted and hokey as the text.  I certainly hope it was not but I really don’t have any way of knowing.  I like the story telling vehicle used in this film and the naval and air sequences were absolutely amazing.

Hasegawa boxed a few of their Zeros as movie tie-ins and I built the A6M2.  An excellent build though I did not use the markings that came in the box.

Here are some scenes:


Do yourself a big favor if you have not already – check out The Eternal Zero and The Admiral if you want to see how good a Pacific War movie can be.  While I do have some hope for the new Midway film coming in November 2019, given who the director is I am pretty much expecting: “Pearl Harbor II: Now we sink their ships!”  Instead I will just look forward to another Japanese Pacific War movie.

I know most of you love movies so let me know your thoughts in the comments!

2 thoughts on “The Absolute Supremacy of Japanese WW2 Movies

Add yours

  1. One of my favorite movies, World War II or otherwise, is Kono Sekai no Katasumi Ni (In This Corner of the World). its about a young housewife’s daily life in wartime Japan, both the director and the original manga author went to great lengths for historical accuracy and making it realistic. Aside from dates and details, protagonist Suzu’s story rings true because though fiction, it echoes what I’ve heard from Japanese people I’ve interviewed who lived through those times including my wife’s grandmother.

    I wrote a review of it if you’re interested:

    Liked by 1 person

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