Kamikaze
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Piano wa shitte iru: Gekkou no natsu (The piano knows: Summer of the moonlight sonata)
written by Tsuneyuki Mori
illustrated by Seigo Yamamoto
Jiyukokumin-sha, 2004, 41 pages

The 1993 film Gekkou no Natsu (Summer of the Moonlight Sonata) has achieved great popularity with Japanese children of all ages. The movie tells about two kamikaze pilots, Shinsuke Kazama and Mitsuhiko Unno, who visit an elementary school to play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata before they leave on their suicide mission. Tsuneyuki Mori wrote this children's picture book in 2004 for the 50th anniversary of the incorporation of Tosu City, the location of the elementary school where the two pilots visited in 1945. This children's book tells the same story, but in much simpler terms, as the novel on which the film was based.

After the two kamikaze pilots visit the elementary school, they fly to Chiran Air Base and depart on their mission soon afterward. Their squadron, made up of six pilots from ages 17 to 22, flies toward American ships near Okinawa, but Kazama's plane develops engine trouble. He reluctantly returns to base, where staff officers call him a coward even though he wants another chance to fly on a kamikaze mission.

In 1989, Kimiko Yoshioka, a teacher who met the kamikaze pilots when they visited the elementary school in 1945, hears that school officials plan to get rid of the old piano. She visits the school to tell students the story of how the two pilots played Moonlight Sonata when she was a young teacher at the school. She starts to search to see whether the pilots might have survived, and she finds out that a man in Kumamoto Prefecture seems to fit the description of one of the pilots. This man is Kazama, and he visits the elementary school again after he receives a letter from Kimiko Yoshioka. When asked by a student whether he will play the old grand piano, he nods and quietly says, "I'll play for those who died in the war."

The plot and dialogue of the story from the novel have been greatly simplified for younger children. The author clearly presents themes of love, devotion, and peace, such as the following excerpt from the dialogue between the two pilots on the night before departure on their final mission (p. 22):

Kazama: Unno, I'll die to protect my loved ones and to protect my home.

Unno: We'll die to leave the nation of Japan for future generations.

The book's final sentence makes clear the book's central message: "The piano must surely be wishing that another war never happens."

This children's picture book differs in several ways from Mori's novel. For example, the novel depicts the harsh treatment that Kazama received from staff officers at the Shinbu Barracks in Fukuoka Prefecture, whereas this children's book only briefly mentions that officers call him a coward and do not believe Kazama's story about engine trouble. This book also does not cover Kazama's distress and shame at surviving when his comrades died in battle.

The end of the book has a couple of pages on the history of Japan's special attack forces that carried out suicide attacks near the end of World War II. Another page provides information on where the piano is currently displayed in Tosu City so visitors can see the famous piano played by two kamikaze pilots. A book for older elementary school children, Sensei no piano ga utta: Futatsu no piano monogatari (The teacher's piano sang: Story of two pianos), tells the true story on which this book's fictional story is based.

Although some words and concepts in this children's book may be difficult, children as young as kindergarten can enjoy and learn from this heartwarming story that thoughtfully treats important themes such as death, war, commitment, and love.