Japanese War Movies

Thursday, March 31 by Karen Murdock

History books are one thing, but these Japanese war movies lend a moving, human perspective on war from a Japanese point of view. Whether these Japanese war movies reveal the suffering of Hiroshima survivors or showcase the courage of fighter pilots, each one will teach you something about the Japanese perspective on history.  

  1. “Chi to Suna” (1965) – In this Japanese war movie about the final days of World War II, a Japanese soldier is punished for insubordination by being sent to China. That alone is hard enough, but his hardest task will be retraining band members to be combat soldiers.
  2. “Ozoro no Samurai” (1976) – Japanese fighter pilots have long been revered for their bravery and skill. This Japanese war movie focuses on World War II from the point of view of those Japanese fighter pilots. In fact, the English translation of the title is “Zero Pilot.”
  3. “Black Rain” (1989) – Do not confuse this Japanese war movie with the American movie by the same title. This Japanese movie’s original title is “Kuroi ame,” and it follows fictional survivors of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima. This Japanese war movie presents a side of the Hiroshima bombing rarely seen in the United States, and for its sensitive, moving portrayals, it won nine awards from the Japanese Academy and two awards at Cannes.
  4. “Grave of the Fireflies” (1988) – This animated Japanese war movie will break your heart and give you a whole new perspective on World War II. Two children must fend for themselves in war-ravaged Japan after their mother dies in an air raid. Their father is a soldier, and his fate in unknown. Lights from fireflies keep the children entertained, even as they suffer from starvation.
  5. “The Last Samurai” (2003) – Tom Cruise might not be the first actor to come to mind when thinking about Japanese war movies, so “The Last Samurai” may surprise you. The plot focuses on 1870s American Captain Nathan Algren, who is sent to train the Imperial Japanese army in modern warfare. When he must put down a rebellion of traditional Japanese samurai, he is captured, and he learns the old Samurai ways. This Japanese war movie earned four Oscar nominations.
  6. “Letters from Iwo Jima” (2006) – You may have learned about the battle of Iwo Jima in history class, but you probably never learned about it from the Japanese point of view. This Japanese war movie will fill that gap. It tells the story of Japanese soldiers as they faced a horrific battle. Directed by Clint Eastwood, this Japanese war movie won one Oscar and was nominated for three others.
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