Starring: Denjirō Ōkōchi, Yatarō Kurokawa, Setsuko Hara
Director: Kajirō Yamamoto
Running Time: 116 mins
The War At Sea From Hawaii To Malaya is a Japanese film about a budding young soldier who wants to become a navy pilot for the Imperial forces in the early stages of World War II. After being put through a rigorous training routine, he takes part in one of the biggest operations of the entire war, an attack on the US naval base of Pearl Harbour.
I’ve always had a big problem with propaganda films. No matter what side of the battle, nor the filmmaking quality, it’s a genre that I’ve always struggled to find any real appreciation for, and it’s no different with The War At Sea From Hawaii To Malay. Despite a couple of interesting tie-ins with the wider World War, it’s a dull and procedural recruitment video for the wartime Japanese navy, and barely manages to establish any characters or engaging plot lines throughout.
One of the strangest things about this film was how much like Hacksaw Ridge I found it was. Despite the 72 year difference in release, as well as their respective representations of opposing sides of the Second World War, both films follow a very similar structure.
A young and patriotic man joins up to the army, and spends the first half of the film being put through a rigorous training routine. Following his completion of the training, he plays a part in a major battle of the war, all the while with a family back at home worrying for him.
Despite that similarity, the big difference between those two films is that Hacksaw Ridge develops characters and conflicts throughout. It may be immensely patriotic, but Desmond Doss questions the activities of the US Army, all the while developing different conflicts and relationships with various characters throughout the film.
The very nature of The War At Sea From Hawaii To Malay being a propaganda film means that there’s inevitably not going to be much criticism of the Japanese armed forces. That said, the character development here is so underwhelming that it makes the film really difficult to follow through for two whole hours.
Throughout the training phase of the film, there’s barely any focus on our main character, rather the procedures and experience that any typical Japanese soldier would face at the time. Whilst that’s great as a recruitment video, there’s nothing personal about the story, making it impossible to really care about the story that’s trying to be developed at the centre.
Whilst our main man gets a little bit more of the limelight later on, there’s nothing really there to make you care for him as a character. The various cutbacks to his home life (including a bizarre home sequence) feel stale and impersonal, again working well to encompass all the prospective soldiers, but doing nothing to further the main character’s story.
I think that this is the sort of film that needs to be watched as a pure historical document. Those who are interested in propaganda cinema will surely find some intrigue and drama in it, whilst history fans will enjoy the way it ties in with the wider context of the war.
However, for anyone else, it’s a very dull affair, doing little to create an engaging and compelling story amidst the procedural recruitment video that it really is, and that’s why I’m giving The War At Sea From Hawaii To Malaya a 5.8 overall.