Title: 東京大空襲：第一夜 - 受難 (Toukyou Daikuushuu: Daiichi Yoru - Junan)
English Title: Tokyo Air Raid
Directed by: Ueda Nobuhiro
Starring: Horikita Maki, Fujiwara Tatsuya, Eita, Shibamoto Yuki
“Can you imagine it? What we’re looking at now, all burned. Houses, parks, cars…men and women…children too.” – Tokyo Air Raid
As I step out of the National Diet Library and inhale the cool, crisp autumn air I am almost in disbelief that the events of Tokyo Air Raid took place not far from where I now am. It is difficult for many people now to envision the events of March 9th and 10th, 1945 – the Tokyo Firebombing, in which at least 100,000 people lost their lives to a sea of fire from U.S. incendiary bombs.
Tokyo Air Raid focuses on a group of people, many of whom are working at a hospital, during the war in Japan. Here we are introduced to patients who are struggling with, or recovering from, various illnesses, as well as young men and women coping with the loss of loved ones, while at the same time growing closer to each other. The movie especially follows Haruko (Horikita Maki) a nurse, and Hiroto (Fujiwara Tastuya), a patient, at the hospital.
The unfortunate conclusion, which the audience is more or less informed of from the beginning, is that all of these characters are doomed to a tragic fate, caught under the bombs of the night of March 9th, 1945. In this aspect, the movie shares something in common with, for example Titanic, in that we know things aren’t going to turn out well, yet we are still drawn into the story and develop a connection with the characters.
While the majority of the movie is devoted to developing the characters – especially the relationship between Haruko and Hiroto – and reenacting the actual scenes of the bombings, it also lightly touches on other issues that were present during wartime Japan. The lack of concern by the military elites for the publics’ welfare is one notable example. Hiroto’s father, a police officer, is distraught when the military issues orders prohibiting anyone from fleeing Tokyo or taking refuge in the case of a major bombing. Essentially, this is a death sentence for the citizens of Tokyo, who are granted only a token sense of security by the regular fire drills they are forced to practice. Other examples of citizens suffering at the hands of the military are apparent in one of the opening scenes of an officer harassing a group of women about their “lack of patriotism”.
Relationships between Japanese, Americans and Koreans are also brought up and, while the movie briefly eludes to racist attitudes toward the perceived “other,” it is not to the extent that it probably could have. When a shot down American fighter pilot comes to the hospital, many of the staff and patients wish for the doctor to let him die. However, their opinions change once they get to know the pilot. Later, we discover that one of the nurses is in love with a Korean man. Her father is at first opposed to them getting married, not on the grounds that he himself dislikes Koreans, but rather that he doesn’t want to see them suffer at the hands of others who, supposedly, would not be as tolerant. All of the characters display a surprising amount of tolerance which, considering the violent prevalence of racism at the time, is impressive to say the least.
On the whole, Tokyo Air Raid does an excellent job of portraying a historical event that deserves more attention, and gives an interesting look at wartime Japan. While some might be a little let down if they are expecting George Lucas-style special effects, the terror and tragedy of the firebombing nonetheless comes across quite clear. Director Ueda Nobuhiro deserves a great amount of credit for attempting to make the history of the Tokyo Fire bombings accessible to a modern audience, even to those who are learning about the event for the first time.