Written by Louis Pollock
Produced by John Florea and Charles Rhodes
Directed by Irving Lerner
International Historic Films, 1950, 65 min., Video
This 1950 documentary has exceptional Japanese wartime film
clips, but the narrative lacks direction, historical
detail, and objectivity. One of the program's goals is to show how Hideki Tojo,
Prime Minister from 1941 to 1944, used battle newsreels to manipulate the
Japanese people for his own purpose, but many parts of the documentary do not
relate to this goal. A written statement at the beginning of the film states,
"this picture is presented to the peoples of free nations, as a timely
study of the ways of a dictator." This documentary came out in 1950, the
year after China had been taken over by the Communists, so the film's writer
appears to want to draw parallels between the Communist Chinese and the
Japanese during World War II. However, the writer gives no detail on lessons to
be learned from the Japanese wartime experience, other than demonstrating that
film clips shown to the Japanese public many times did not represent the actual
situation. The following statement illustrates the stereotypical, unsupported
thinking in this documentary, "The Oriental soldier is an excellent
soldier, as the world is beginning to realize today. He must have or think he
has a cause, but once thus indoctrinated, he is a fighting man" .
The title, Suicide Attack, does not clearly indicate
the film's contents. Although the latter part of the film has about six minutes
of material related to the military's employment of suicide attacks, the use of
the title Suicide Attack for the entire film is never explained. The
narrator quotes Lieutenant General Kawabe, one of the leaders of the Army's
kamikaze attacks in the Philippines and Okinawa, in his explanation of why he
did not consider a kamikaze attack to be the same as a suicide attack:
Please do not call our kamikaze attacks "suicide
attacks." This is a misnomer, and we feel very badly about this. They were
in no sense suicide. The pilot did not start out on his mission with the
intention of committing suicide. He looked on himself as a human bomb, which
would destroy a certain part of the enemy fleet for his country. He considered
this a glorious thing, while suicide may not be so glorious. 
This documentary covers the war in the Pacific from 1941 to
1945, but few specific dates or years are mentioned during the narrative. The
film clips are generally in chronological order, but sometimes segments go back
and forth in time. The narrator often adopts a high, lilting voice when quoting
Japanese persons, apparently done to sarcastically show the foolishness of the
statements. At times this 1950 documentary starts to sound like a wartime
propaganda film, rather than a serious historical examination of the battle
footage showed by Japanese leaders to the public.
Even though the narrator gives very few specific historical
facts, several related to kamikaze attacks are incorrect or misleading. Lieutenant
General Kawabe is presented as the "director of kamikaze operations in the
final Philippines and Okinawa campaigns" , but actually the Navy led
the operations, and Kawabe only had a part in leading Army kamikaze attacks,
many times under orders from the Navy. The film's footage shows Navy kamikaze
pilots in the Philippines before departure, but viewers are given the
impression that Kawabe directed this attack, even though he had no involvement.
The documentary shows a four-minute segment on the Giretsu airborne suicide
operation from mainland Japan to Okinawa, but the narrator does not clearly
explain how this operation differed from normal kamikaze plane attacks on
Allied ships. The Giretsu unit had nine planes that tried to fly into American
airfields on Okinawa in order for soldiers to destroy as many planes as
possible before dying in battle. During this suicidal attack on the night of
May 24-25, 1945, one plane succeeded in landing, and ten Army soldiers came out
of the plane to destroy 9 planes and damage 26 before U.S. Marines killed them
(O'Neill 1999, 234-5).
A critical review written when this documentary was produced
says, "the events depicted, unless you were a part of them, will have only
a passing historical interest. . . . one wonders if it was worth the
effort" (quoted in Basinger 1986, 298). Suicide Attack contains
some outstanding Japanese wartime newsreels, including several extended ones,
but the rest of this documentary is definitely not worth the effort.
1. At 21:15 in video.
2. From 52:00 to 52:25 in video.
3. At 51:05 in video.
Basinger, Jeanine. 1986. The World War II Combat Film:
Anatomy of a Genre. New York: Columbia University Press.
O'Neill, Richard. 1999. Originally published in 1981 as an
illustrated edition. Suicide Squads: The Men and Machines of World War II
Special Operations. London: Salamander Books.