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Deguchi no nai umi (Sea without exit)
Director: Kiyoshi Sasabe
Screenplay writers: Yoji Yamada and Motofumi Tomikawa
Based on novel written by Hideo Yokoyama
Cast: Ebizo Ichikawa as Koji Namiki
   Juri Ueno as Minako Narumi
   Yusuke Iseya as Katsuya Kita
   Shun Shioya as Nobuo Ito
Shochiku, 2006, 121 min., DVD

A kaiten human torpedo pilot had no hope for survival once launched toward an enemy ship. However, Deguchi no nai umi (Sea without exit) accurately depicts that kaiten at times did not launch as intended due to mechanical problems or damage from enemy depth charges. In this movie only one pilot in a kaiten squadron of four men (Koji Namiki, Katsuya Kita, Yasukichi Sakuma, and Hiroyuki Okita) succeeds in launching his kaiten and carrying out a suicide attack. The film follows fairly closely the basic plot of the 2004 novel Deguchi no nai umi by Hideo Yokoyama, but small differences in characters and plot exist between the book and film. The film depicts intense emotions experienced by kaiten pilots before and after attempted kaiten launches, but like in the novel the pilots' motivations at times remain hard to understand.

Ebizo Ichikawa, renowned kabuki actor, stars in his first film role as Koji Namiki, a Meiji University student who pitches on the baseball team and who previously had pitched the winning game at the National High School Baseball Championship. Ichikawa, about ten years older than a university student, plays Namiki as serious and quiet. Juri Ueno plays the part of Minako Narumi, Namiki's demure love interest. Interestingly, in a quite different role, she also played in 2006 the outgoing modern-day girlfriend of the time-traveling kaiten pilot in the comedic but serious TV film Bokutachi no sensou (Our war).

Deguchi no nai umi focuses on emotions rather than battle and kaiten details. The film's music score effectively conveys the scenes' moods and characters' emotions. The love between Namiki and Minako develops unrealistically quickly in the scene when they meet at his home. Three kaiten pilots, Namiki, Kita, and Okita, display extreme emotions during their suicide mission when they find out their kaiten cannot be launched. However, their motivations for dying remain somewhat vague and puzzling. Kita mentions in a narcissistic way that he wants to die in a kaiten attack to become a war god so he will not be ashamed after the war. Just before Namiki dies during a practice run, he explains to his friend Ito that he wants to die to tell others about the kaiten, a human torpedo in which a person became part of the weapon, in an apparent attempt to express his anti-war sentiment that he has developed after returning from his unsuccessful suicide mission. Based on this and another statement to Ito about enemy sailors also having families and girlfriends, his death in a kaiten training run may have been on purpose rather than an accident.

The movie opens with Namiki's submarine, which carries four kaiten weapons, under attack with depth charges exploding nearby. The captain orders the submarine to run silent with all machinery stopped. With Namiki lying down sweating in the kaiten pilots' quarters, he reflects back to his days as a pitcher for the Meiji University team when he gave up the winning hit to the Waseda University team. When his team meets later at Bolero Café, he talks about how he is searching for an effective off-speed pitch since he cannot pitch with the same speed as high school after hurting his shoulder.

After the submarine has been running silent for three and a half hours, the kaiten pilots become frustrated that they may die without ever carrying out their attacks. When two American destroyers start dropping depth charges, the captain tries to escape by bringing the ship up from 80 meters under the surface, where the depth charges are exploding, to 40 meters down so that the depth charges will go off below them. As Namiki continues to lie down sweating with the oxygen thinning, his thoughts again return to the past.

In October 1943, Tokyo university students who no longer had draft deferment and would enter the Navy or Army soon gathered together in Meiji Jingu Stadium for a sendoff. After the assembly, Namiki goes to Bolero Café, where he discusses the war with his classmates. Kita, who in the past had been training for the marathon at the Olympic Games when they were cancelled, tells Namiki that he did not attend the gathering since he had already volunteered for the Navy and does not expect to return alive.

When Namiki returns to his home in the Nakano area of Tokyo, he meets Minako, a friend of his younger sister Sachiko, who had attended the assembly at Meiji Jingu Stadium to see Namiki but was unsuccessful. While the family eats dinner, Namiki announces his intent to volunteer for the Navy even before he receives his draft notice. After dinner, Namiki goes with Minako to his room where he explains his training schedule as a Navy reserve student (yobi gakusei). Minako asks him for his photo so she can put it on her desk and sing to encourage him while in the Navy. As they sing a war song together, he just touches her shoulder from behind when his sister Sachiko interrupts them saying that Namiki's mother thinks it best for Minako to return home. As Namiki and Minako walk together to the train station, air raid sirens sound, and they quickly go down into an air raid shelter.

The action returns to the submarine, where the captain has successfully escaped from the two enemy destroyers. The submarine surfaces so that the condition of the four kaiten can be checked. All appear fine except for the fourth one piloted by Okita, who starts to cry when he sees the propeller has been damaged. The story switches to the Navy's Antisubmarine School in Yokosuka, where Namiki and Obata, another former member of the Meiji University baseball team, stand together in a large hall. The head of school gives a speech to ask for volunteers for a new special weapon that is extremely dangerous but will deliver a deadly blow to the enemy. After some thought, Namiki decides to submit his paper with two circles above his name to indicate he wants to volunteer, whereas Obata does not write any circle, indicating he does not wish to volunteer.

Namiki begins training for the kaiten, the new special weapon, on the coast of the Seto Inland Sea at Hikari Base in Yamaguchi Prefecture. The trainees visit a factory where kaiten are being manufactured, and they get to see a kaiten for the first time. Officers explain the kaiten's technical specifications, such as 1.6 tons of explosives in front, length of 14.75 meters, diameter of 1 meter, top speed of 30 knots, and power supply based on the renowned Type 93 torpedo (also known as Long Lance torpedo). The officers make clear that there is no escape mechanism and the kaiten cannot be stopped or reversed once launched toward an enemy ship.

Ito, a kaiten maintenance worker, introduces himself to Namiki. He explains that he played first base and batted clean-up in school and that he listened by radio when Namiki pitched the winning game for the National High School Baseball Championship at Koshien Stadium. They then go into classroom training where Sakuma, an acquaintance of Namiki from the Antisubmarine School, uses a kaiten replica to try to follow all of the steps needed to operate the weapon. Later in the evening as Namiki tries to memorize these steps sitting by the water, Ito interrupts him and they talk again while playing catch under an electric light in the dark. Namiki explains to him that he wants to find a certain type of change-up pitch, but he has not yet been successful. He then meets Kita, his classmate and a track team member at Meiji University, who he discovers went on a kaiten mission from Hikari during the previous month, but his kaiten could not be launched due to mechanical problems.

When Namiki goes on his first training run inside a kaiten, he panics, makes several mistakes, ends up going in the wrong direction, and slightly crashes the kaiten at the end of the run. An officer hits him in the mouth after he crawls slowly out of the kaiten. Namiki then gets a short leave to return to his home in Tokyo where he sees some neighbors' houses that have been burned by bombing raids. Minako's house also got hit, so she is now living outside Tokyo in Hachioji. Namiki has only one night home, so he does not want to contact Minako to see her since he knows that he will soon be going on a suicide mission. While eating dinner, his sister Sachiko gives him the baseball glove of his former Meiji University teammate Obata, who he finds out has died in battle with about 1,000 other men when an American submarine used torpedoes to hit and sink his transport ship.

Despite Namiki's reservations, Sachiko sends a telegram to Minako to tell her the train station and time when he will be leaving to return to base. Minako arrives just as the train gets ready to pull away, so she and Namiki only have about a minute to talk in the film's most touching scene. She asks whether he is in the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps or whether he is assigned to a ship, but he can give her no information other than his assignment is a military secret. Just as the whistle sounds with the train pulling away, he expresses this love to her.


Koji Namiki and Minako Narumi
say farewell for the last time

Back in the submarine, Okita sings a song about one's hometown, and the other three kaiten pilots join in the singing. When a large transport ship is sighted 6,000 meters away, the three pilots with functioning kaiten enter them to prepare to be launched. Kita, the squadron leader in the first kaiten, tries to launch but his propeller does not start. Sakuma in the second kaiten then succeeds in his launch, and an explosion is heard a little while later. A crewman reports that the transport ship is sinking, so Namiki in the third kaiten is ordered back to the submarine despite his intense desire to have his kaiten launched at some enemy ship.

When the submarine surfaces at night, Kita and Namiki go out on deck to inspect their kaiten. Kita begs Namiki to use his kaiten or for them to ride together, since Kita feels he will live the rest of his life in shame if he went on two special attack missions and both times returned alive. He believes Japan will lose the war and there will not be enough time for him to complete another mission if he returns to base. Namiki refuses to let him use the third kaiten. Later during the daytime the submarine spots a group of five enemy ships, so Namiki enters his kaiten to be launched. The kaiten's propeller starts but almost immediately stops, so Namiki has to return to the submarine. When Ito smiles and hands him a baseball, Namiki in anger suddenly slugs him in the mouth. Ito later thinks that it was his fault in not properly maintaining Namiki's kaiten so it could be launched. As they return to Hikari Base, they pass the Surface Special Attack Force of ten ships led by battleship Yamato heading toward Okinawa without air cover for a suicide attack.

Over a month later, Ito brings Obata's glove to Namiki so they can play catch. As they throw the baseball, Namiki explains that American sailors also like baseball and have families and girlfriends, so sinking an American warship means these individuals will die. He states that Japan will lose the war after he dies. He tells Ito that he will die to convey to others after him the meaning of the kaiten, a weapon called the human torpedo in which a person became part of the weapon. In Namiki's last pitch, he finally throws a makyu (magic pitch), an off-speed pitch that drops, to accomplish his long-cherished dream. The next day it is decided that Namiki will go on a second kaiten special attack mission, so he makes a practice run even though he has a fever. His kaiten gets stuck at the bottom of the sea, and the kaiten does not come up to the surface until moved by a strong typhoon that hit the Seto Inland Sea one month after Japan's surrender.

Several people, including occupying American troops, gather around the recovered kaiten and watch as Ito opens the hatch on top. He discovers that Namiki wrote in a notebook as oxygen and electricity ran out in his stuck kaiten. The notebook contains letters to Ito, Sachiko, his mother, his father, and Minako. He apologized in the letter to Ito for hitting him in the mouth, and he wrote the following message to Minako and died after writing the final words of the letter:

Minako,

I am now in my youth before midday. I give that youth to you.

There is a request I have for you. I would like you to see the things I could not see. Such as the beauty of today's sunset. Such as the glittering of the summer sea. Such as the redness of a persimmon that has turned color. Such as the Nakano district streets covered in snow. I would like you to see these instead of me.

After a year has passed, I want you to forget about me. I would like you to find a good person and have overflowing happiness.

Minako, I want you to live, live, and again until you tire of hearing it, live.

Ito in his old age visits Otsushima, an island in Yamaguchi Prefecture with the Kaiten Memorial Museum at the site of the first kaiten base. He walks through the tunnel in which kaiten used to be transported and sees on the wall a photo of Namiki, Kita, Sakuma, Okita, and himself in front of a kaiten. As he exits the tunnel by the water, he pulls out Namiki's baseball and throws it into the sea. The final scene shows a current Meiji University baseball game, and the movie credits roll while popular singer Mariya Takeuchi beautifully sings "Henshin" (Reply), a song whose lyrics reflect Minako's loving thoughts about Namiki.

The acting, scenery, and sets give this film a realistic feel in most but not all places. Overall, the movie's sets have a newness and cleanliness that does not fit with the grittiness of the wartime period. When the pilots are ordered by the submarine's captain to enter their kaiten and get ready for launch, they spend way too much time saying their final goodbyes when taking into account that enemy ships already have been sighted. It is highly unlikely that Hikari Base's officers would allow Namiki and Ito to engage in leisurely games of playing catch, and even more improbable that the two would play catch after turning on a light at night at the top-secret base subject to enemy detection and bombing. The kaiten piloted by Namiki when he gets stuck on the bottom of the sea seems like a cheap, laughable model in comparison to the more realistic kaiten shown up to that point in the film. The submarine, when returning to Hikari Base, just happens to pass by battleship Yamato and nine other ships on their way to Okinawa for a suicide mission. The submarine surfaces and the kaiten crewmen wave enthusiastically toward battleship Yamato, even though such a move would have been utterly foolhardy in waters where the ships were being tracked by American submarines.

Although the movie's plot and characters generally remain faithful to Hideo Yokoyama's novel, a few significant differences exist. The book presents the story in strictly chronological order, whereas the film employs several flashbacks and starts during the kaiten special attack mission with the submarine being attacked by depth charges. Koji Namiki in the novel never achieves his makyu (magic pitch), but he succeeds in the movie on the day before being assigned to his second kaiten mission. The number of kaiten carried by the submarine gets reduced from six in the novel to four in the film. The movie's new character of Ito, a kaiten mechanic, develops a friendship with Namiki based on their mutual love of baseball. In several of the scenes, Ito in the film replaces Okita from the book, but Okita remains in the movie as one of the four kaiten pilots.

The movie's kaiten pilots train at Hikari Base. Warehouses and other commercial buildings have been built on the base site, and the only reminder of those days of training for death is the Hikari Kaiten Monument. The full-size kaiten replica used for Deguchi no nai umi now is exhibited in front of Atata Exchange Center in Hirao, the former site of another kaiten base in Yamaguchi Prefecture.