Charged with insubordination for punching a superior, Sergeant Kosugi is shipped to China in the last desperate days of the Second World War. His commander, Captain Sakuma, is vicious and dictatorial. Sakuma places Kosugi in charge of training for combat what once was the military band. Kosugi must somehow prepare his inept soldiers for the rigors of combat.
“Fort Graveyard” (1965) or “Chi to suna” is a very good war movie. It doesn’t question the right or wrong of Japanese soldiers fighting in China in World War 2 so much as it questions war itself, and then not in a one-sided way. The story operates on several levels with several themes, being composed of a series of linked characters and sub-plots. The movie is on Youtube at present with clear English subtitles and in widescreen.
The masterful Toshirô Mifune plays a sergeant who takes about 14 young musicians to whom he gives rudimentary training into a battle to retake a fort from the Chinese. As in many American war movies, the men come together as a unit and the instincts that support fighting and making war begin to emerge. These range from hatred and blood lust to courage and even nobility, which is why I said that the depiction of war is not one-sided. The anti-war message nevertheless comes through loud and clear in many ways, without being heavy-handed about it.
The staging of battles is well above average. One doesn’t even think of them as being staged.
The young recruits are mostly virgins and a major subplot involves a comfort woman (Reiko Dan) who services soldiers. She’s in love with Mifune and follows the men to the front. Her part introduces a large amount of humanity in an unexpected place and helps show another level of the transition of boys into men. Her role is treated with respect.
The band likes to play “Oh When the Saints”. It represents many alternatives to war: spirituality, harmony, joy, togetherness. A Chinese prisoner takes to the flute when the flautist is killed.
But make no mistake. There is a great deal of killing in this movie and the idea that war forces the choice “kill or be killed” is made clear again and again.
Director Kihachi Okamoto was drafted in 1943 and survived, while many did not. We can well imagine how that contributed to his writing this story. However, his technique is not polemical. He suffuses war with humor much of the time.
I liked the movie. I was drawn into it once Mifune appeared after what seemed to me to be a slow and rather slapstick start. I thought that it ran long at 132 minutes and would have benefited by some editing. I thought the movie did quite well at bringing out a good many side characters. John Ford and “Stagecoach” were favorites of the director and this shows.
Okamoto was unafraid to make a point of showing Japanese soldier heroics and bravery, even while showing the ultimate futility of the fighting. But it also showed the Chinese tenacity and willingness to sacrifice to hold their territory.
DVDRip | MKV | 712 x 364 | x264 @ 1650 Kbps | 131 min | 1,81 Gb
Audio: Japanese AC3 2.0 @ 224 Kbps | Subs: English (srt)
Genre: Drama, War