Starring: Junichi Okada, Haruma Miura, Mao Inoue
Director: Takashi Yamazaki
Running Time: 144 mins
The Eternal Zero is a Japanese film about a man and a woman who decide to delve into the history of their grandfather, and come across the extraordinary story of a man he worked alongside during the Second World War, a man that bravely opposed the infamous kamikaze program.
Although not the most riveting and convincing of all time, the story at hand in The Eternal Zero is a very entertaining one, giving a different perspective on the Japanese army in World War II. However, what makes this film most interesting is its impassioned message against kamikaze, and although it’s not strictly an anti-war film, it provides some really strong drama with its criticism of the infamous system.
Before we get onto that, however, let’s talk about the main plot here, two people in modern day journeying through the extraordinary lives of soldiers during the war through various accounts. On the whole, that side of the movie isn’t that engrossing, and when the film tries to invoke some emotion and drama in the modern-day characters, it doesn’t always work so well, adding what feels like unnecessary time onto an already very long film.
That said, where the story is strongest is in its emotional connection between past and present, shown mostly through the various old men who tell the stories of the people who were a part of the Imperial army of the time.
Although it’s not actually a true story, a fact that really takes the shine off the film’s passionate and patriotic approach to the story, what director Takashi Yamazaki does do well is draw some strong emotion from those men who saw the horror of the kamikaze program at the time, something that then replicates itself when you see one man standing strong against it during the war itself.
And this is where things start to get interesting, and a little controversial. Without a doubt, this film is anti-kamikaze, and goes to extreme lengths to criticise not only the inhumane nature of the suicide system used by the Imperial Air Force, but the wider, longer-term effects that extend to the psychological trauma of soldiers that survived the war, and the grief of the families who are left without a husband and father due to a barbaric tactic of warfare.
However, The Eternal Zero isn’t exactly an anti-war film. Whilst it’s doesn’t paint the most glorious picture of war, with various powerful and heartbreaking moments where innocent men’s lives are needlessly taken away, it still has a strongly patriotic and jingoistic vibe that makes it somewhat of an uneasy watch at times. Whether it be the faceless portrayal of the American enemy, or the fact that the film’s patriotic ending plays out to the speech given by Emperor Hirohito at the end of the war, there are elements of this movie that feel exactly the opposite of an anti-war film, but it’s a dynamic that you rarely see in modern cinema, and as such makes for an intriguing watch.
Away from the story, there are a few other strong points. The action, for one, is excellent throughout, and with strong CGI and special effects throughout, the film does a great job at providing both entertaining and exciting military battles, all the while doing its job as a glorification of the feat of aerial engineering that is the Mitsubishi Zero.
What’s more is that the performances are pretty good too. Again, those given by the two younger characters in modern day aren’t enough for you to really connect with them, but the performance by Junichi Okada, who plays the wartime soldier who stands strong against kamikaze, is absolutely fantastic, bringing a strong emotional core to the story that feels far more genuine and passionate that a typically cheesy and jingoistic war film.
Overall, I did have a good time with The Eternal Zero. It’s by no means a perfect film, and undoubtedly overlong, but with an intriguing emotional core that stands strong against the kamikaze program, yet doesn’t seem to do the same against the war in general, there’s a lot to unpick and delve into throughout, which is why I’m giving it a 7.4.