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Day of the Kamikaze
Written, produced, and directed by Peter Nicholson
Smithsonian Networks, 2007, 75 min., DVD
Also includes Eyewitness Kamikaze (26 min.)

This British-produced documentary presents numerous firsthand accounts from both Japanese and Allied veterans. When considering quality, emotional content, and variety, the interviews in Day of the Kamikaze surpass those in any other documentary on Japan's kamikaze operations. These interviewees, ten from the Japanese side and ten from the Allied side (see list at bottom of page), describe what happened during Japan's kamikaze attacks and express their enduring deep feelings toward those events.

The film's interviews cover a wide range of topics and perspectives. Two sisters of kamikaze pilots who died in attacks express the great grief experienced by their families. The sister of pilot Nobuaki Fujita describes the sad wedding ceremony that took place when his fiancée Mutsue became both his bride and widow in a marriage rite with only his photograph. Although rarely mentioned in other documentaries on Japanese kamikaze, this film features three British Navy veterans who experienced kamikaze attacks aboard British aircraft carriers between Okinawa and Taiwan. The documentary also brings together American and Japanese perspectives related to the suicide mission of Battleship Yamato and the attack of the ohka rocket-powered glider bomb that sank the destroyer Mannert L. Abele.

The name of this documentary, Day of the Kamikaze, never gets explained. The film covers Japan's aerial suicide attacks from March 11, 1945, the date the aircraft carrier Randolph was hit at Ulithi in a long-range kamikaze attack from the Japanese mainland, to the last day of the war when Commander Ugaki led a squadron of 11 aircraft against the American fleet near Okinawa. The phrase Day of the Kamikaze only gets used once in reference to the kamikaze hit on the aircraft carrier Enterprise on May 14, 1945. However, it seems like this would not be the date of the Day of the Kamikaze referred to in the title, since the film pays the most attention to April 6, 1945, the date of Japan's first mass kamikaze attack.

In contrast to the top-notch interviews, this documentary has the following four significant drawbacks:

Skips - The DVD's sound skips in many places making it impossible to hear some words in the interviews. The purchase of a second DVD copy did not help at all, since the skips occur in the same places. It is hard to believe that the Smithsonian name would be associated with a product that does not even meet basic quality requirements. It is quite frustrating when an interviewee starts a sentence but never completes it due to a DVD sound skip.

Missing History - The narrator incorrectly makes it sound like Japanese military leaders first decided in February 1945 to use Japanese pilots to carry out suicide attacks against the Allied fleet. Day of the Kamikaze does not mention the formation of the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps by Vice Admiral Takijiro Ohnishi in the Philippines in October 1944, and the DVD completely ignores the over 600 Japanese pilots who died in suicide attacks in the Philippines and Taiwan from October 1944 to January 1945 [1].

Ugaki Focus - This documentary asserts that the key to understand Japan's kamikaze strategy is to understand Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki, who commanded the Navy's 5th Air Fleet in suicide attacks against the Allied Fleet during the Battle of Okinawa from April to June 1945. Despite this assertion, the film provides little insight into his background and beliefs. Reenactments in the film show him frequently writing his diary alone in a nice Japanese room rather than engaged in battle planning and operations together with his men in the underground operations room at Kanoya Air Base in southern Kyushu.

Zero Replica - A Zero fighter replica trailing smoke makes an appearance again and again in the film. Several times this aircraft goes right over some men supposedly on a ship, but these obviously fake reenactments have little purpose when there are many historical film clips of real kamikaze aircraft that attacked Allied ships. Most Zero fighters on kamikaze missions carried a bomb underneath, but this replica has none. The documentary erroneously shows the same Zero replica to represent the aircraft of Shigeyoshi Hamazono, who actually flew a Type 99 carrier dive bomber (Val) with a fixed undercarriage as part of mass kamikaze attack of Kikusui (Floating Chrysanthemum) Operation No. 1 on April 6, 1945 [2].

Although the film for the most part accurately relates the history of kamikaze operations during the ten Kikusui mass kamikaze attacks during the Battle of Okinawa, there are a few glaring errors. For example, the narrator states [3]:

Pilots are only informed of their selection one or two days before the sortie. Their commanders don't want them to dwell on their fate.

Numerous examples can be cited to show this statement to be completely false. Army special (suicide) attack squadrons were formed on average two or three months prior to their final sortie [4]. For example, the Army's 27th Shinbu Squadron was formed on February 14, 1945, but did not take off on its suicide mission from Miyakonojo Air Base until June 22 [5]. The 64th Shinbu Squadron was formed on April 1, 1945, but did not sortie from Bansei Air Base until June 11 [6]. Navy kamikaze squadrons in the Battle of Okinawa also were formed several weeks in advance, although some of the early squadrons of veteran pilots were formed in the Philippines just a few days before their final missions. The pilots of the Navy's ohka flying glider bomb in the Thunder Gods Squadron highlighted in the documentary were selected in October 1944, but the ohka weapon did not get used in battle until March 21, 1945 [7]. The Shiragiku Special Attack Unit was formed at Kochi Naval Air Base on March 3, 1945, but Shiragiku training planes flew in suicide attacks for the first time on May 24 [8]. The squadron of Shigeyoshi Hamazono, one of the Navy kamikaze pilots interviewed in the documentary, did not wait as long as some, but even in his case the kamikaze squadron was formed more than a week prior to his actual mission. His special attack squadron was formed at Hyakurihara Air Base on March 26, 1945, and he took off from Kokubu No. 1 Air Base toward Okinawa on April 6 [9].

Another inaccurate statement in the documentary relates to the timing of the establishment of radar picket stations around Okinawa to defend against kamikaze attacks [10]:

The damage inflicted by the mass air attack at Okinawa on April 6th forces the Allied High Command to reevaluate how to protect the fleet from the onslaught of kamikazes. The strategy developed is to put out a protective ring of destroyers that are called radar picket stations.

Admiral Turner's plan to protect the American fleet supporting the Okinawan invasion included radar picket stations from long before April 6, 1945. From March 26 on, each radar picket station had a destroyer or a destroyer minesweeper with a fighter-director team to detect approaching Japanese aircraft and to provide advance warning to the main fleet [11].

The documentary presents a simplified and distorted view of how kamikaze pilots were selected for their missions. The following two excerpts from the film provide examples [12]:

To succeed it will require convincing hundreds, even thousands, of young pilots to sacrifice their lives on one-way missions.

When pilots step up, they are given a stark choice. They can sign their names next to the words "eager" or "very eager."

Many special attack pilots were given no choice to join suicide squadrons and instead were assigned or ordered to such squadrons [13]. Even when given a choice to volunteer, pilots often had to make the choice immediately in front of their comrades such as being asked to step forward to volunteer [14], so it was unlikely that anyone would refuse with such peer pressure and with societal expectations being that they would give their lives for their country. The film mentions that pilots would step up to the front of a group and sign their names with either "eager" or "very eager," but this method was rarely, if ever, used.

The documentary has a few other minor flaws. The DVD cover advertises that the film "shows you one of the world's only intact Kamikaze planes on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.," but this plane never shows up anywhere. The narrator incorrectly pronounces some of the Japanese names (e.g., Yoshio pronounced as Yashio). The credits mention the non-existent Kokubu Air Base Museum. Excerpts from Commander Ugaki's diary [15] are presented throughout the film, but sometimes these excerpts have been edited and do not reflect his exact words.

The DVD's second documentary, Eyewitness Kamikaze, has much the same flavor as Day of the Kamikaze without the interviews on the Japanese side. Some interview clips are the same between the two films, and the Zero fighter replica makes an annoying appearance several times also in Eyewitness Kamikaze. This first third of this second documentary features the attack on the destroyer Laffey by multiple kamikaze aircraft, which does not get mentioned in Day of the Kamikaze. Eyewitness Kamikaze lacks discussion of the historical context of Japan's kamikaze attacks, but the interviews of Allied veterans provide insights into the thoughts and feelings of the men who fought against Japan's kamikaze onslaught.

Although the documentary Day of the Kamikaze has some major historical and production flaws, the superb interviews of participants on both the Japanese and Allied sides make this a fascinating film.

Interviewees in Day of the Kamikaze

Thunder God Squadron - Hiroshi Shinjo (Unit Captain), Morimasa Yunokawa (Unit Captain)
Chief Naval Aeronautical Engineer (involved in development of ohka missile) - Iwao Nazuka
Navy Special Attack Pilots - Yoshio Hashimoto, Shigeyoshi Hamazono
Army Special Attack Pilot - Tadamasa Itatsu
Battleship Yamato - Masanobu Kobayashi (Gunner)
Sister of Nobuaki Fujita (Navy Special Attack Pilot who died in battle on May 14, 1945) - Masuko Morioka
Sister of Masaaki Tokito (Navy Special Attack Pilot who died in battle on April 6, 1945) - Ryo Maeda
Commander Ugaki's daughter-in-law - Fusako Ugaki
USS Randolph - Jim Verdolini (Radioman)
USS Mannert L. Abele - Herb Lewis (Gunner), Roy Andersen (Electronics Officer)
USS Bunker Hill - Dean Caswell (Pilot), Ed Duffy (Gunner, TBM Avenger)
US Marine Corps - Dick Whitaker (Rifleman)
HMS Indefatigable - Stuart Eadon (Fire Direction Officer)
HMS Formidable - Keith Quilter (Pilot)
HMS Victorious - Ray Barker (Petty Officer Writer)
USS Laffey - Ari Phoutrides (Quartermaster)

Notes

1. Ozawa 1983, 78.

2. Minaminippon Living Shinbunsha 2003, 91, 151.

3. 26:25 to 26:33.

4. Osuo (2005, 195-216) indicates the formation and sortie dates of special attack squadrons that carried out suicide attacks from March to July 1945.

5. Osuo 2005, 196.

6. Osuo 2005, 200.

7. Naito 1989, 11-2.

8. Mikuni 2001, 271-2.

9. Hamazono 1998, 43-4; Minaminippon Living Shinbunsha 2003, 86.

10. 45:10 to 45:30.

11. Morison 2001, 178.

12. 8:25 to 8:35; 9:10 to 9:19.

13. Ozawa 1983, 131-2.

14. Imamura 2001, 99.

15. Ugaki 1991.

Sources Cited

Hamazono, Shigeyoshi. [1998]. Suiheisen (The horizon). No publisher given.

Imamura, Shigeo. 2001. Shig: The True Story of an American Kamikaze. Baltimore: American Literary Press.

Mikuni, Yudai. 2001. Kouchi kaigun kokutai: Shiragiku tokubetsu kougekitai (Kochi Naval Air Group: Shiragiku special attack unit). Tokyo: Seiunsha.

Minaminippon Living Shinbunsha, ed. 2003. Zerosen ni kaketa otoko: Moto tokkoutaiin - Hamazono Shigeyoshi monogatari (Man who soared in Zero fighter: Story of former special attack corps member - Shigeyoshi Hamazono). Kagoshima City: Minaminippon Living Shinbunsha.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. 2001. Victory in the Pacific, 1945. Originally published in 1960 by Little, Brown & Company. Edison, NJ: Castle Books.

Naito, Hatsuho. 1989. Thunder Gods: The Kamikaze Pilots Tell Their Stories. Translated by Mayumi Ishikawa. Tokyo: Kodansha International.

Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kougekitai no kiroku (rikugun hen) (Record of special attack corps (Army)). Tokyo: Kojinsha.

Ozawa, Ikuro. 1983. Tsurai shinjitsu: kyokou no tokkou shinwa (Hard truths: Fictitious special attack myths). Tokyo: Dohsei Publishing Co.

Ugaki, Matome. 1991. Fading Victory: The Diary of Admiral Matome Ugaki, 1941-1945. Translated by Masataka Chihaya. Edited by Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.