Kamikaze
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Hokui 15░ no dyuo: Nihon hatsu no shinpuu tokubetsu kougekitai no kiseki (15 degrees north latitude duo: Tracks of Japan's first Shinpu (Kamikaze) Special Attack Unit)
Director and writer: Masayoshi Nemoto
Cast: Takuzo Kawatani as self
 Sumiko Abe as self
 Setsuko Karasuma as Japanese mother living in Manila
Zeyliv, 1990, 101 min., DVD

Two Japanese actors, Takuzo Kawatani and Sumiko Abe, play characters with the same names in this Japanese film shot entirely in the Philippines. They follow the trail of the first Kamikaze Special Attack Unit formed at Mabalacat Air Base, but they also visit several other sites related to World War II during their short vacation from Japan to the Philippines. The movie presents some WWII history but in a rather shallow, disconnected manner by use of wartime film clips. Hokui 15░ no Dyuo (15 Degrees North Latitude Duo) focuses on the emotional reactions of Kawatani and Abe when at wartime sites, but at times the extended panoramic scenes with no dialogue seem to be part of a film promoting Philippine tourism.

The two main actors each have a treasured photograph, which causes them to take this trip to the Philippines. Abe carries a Navy photo of her nephew, who died at the age of 23 while fighting on land at Clark Air Base in early 1945. His mother, who was Abe's older sister, passed away the prior summer, which seems to be the reason for Abe's visit now to the Philippines in 1990, 45 years after the end of the war. She also had someone she loved romantically die in the war, but the dialogue only gives hints of this with no details. Kawatani, who appears in a sleeveless T-shirt often stained with sweat, has a photo of the first kamikaze unit formed at Mabalacat Air Base. When he was a struggling actor in Kyoto who could not seem to make any progress no matter how hard he tried, someone gave him this photo copy taken just prior to the pilots' suicide mission in order to encourage him with the positive attitude of these youthful pilots who had no tomorrow. After doing quite a bit of research, Kawatani undertakes this trip to the Philippines to see the most significant sites related to this first kamikaze unit.

The movie's title refers to the duo of Kawatani and Abe, who meet while walking to pick up their bags after getting off a flight that has arrived at Manila's international airport. Manila, Clark Air Base, and Mabalacat, three of the main places they visit, are around 15 degrees north latitude mentioned in the title. After arriving at the Sheraton Hotel in Manila, they chat in the restaurant over a glass of beer and decide to go around together to the war sites. Kawatani tells her that he does not know much about the war, but later she finds out the depth of his prior research on the first kamikaze unit. As they go around to different places to see remains from the war and monuments to those who died in battle, various historical film clips appear with no narration but sometimes include brief written captions.

Kawatani and Abe start with a visit to Corregidor Island in Manila Bay to view the remains there such as the Middleside and Topside Barracks used by American troops. After their return, they go around Manila City to see the sights including the statue of Dr. JosÚ Rizal, a late 19th century freedom fighter considered to be a Philippine national hero. Next they travel to Clark Air Base and Mabalacat, located next to each other about 80 kilometers north of Manila. At the time of their visit American fighter jets take off and land from Clark, which was used as an American air base until 1991, so they cannot enter the base grounds except a small section through Mabalacat Gate, where they obtain special permission. Down the road from the gate, they walk across the remains of Mabalacat West Airfield. In Mabalacat Town they visit a large private home where supposedly pilots from the 201st Air Group and the first Shinpu (Kamikaze) Special Attack Unit lodged. Kawatani says this house is the main destination for his Philippine trip. They also visit the Kamikaze First Airfield Memorial Shrine (later in 1991 nearly buried in ash due to volcanic eruption of nearby Mount Pinatubo) at the former Mabalacat East Airfield and walk in the surrounding fields where the wartime airfield was located.

Next the Japanese duo travels by plane to the island of Cebu to stay at a resort hotel and to visit several war sites, including the Cebu Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) Statue dedicated to the memory of kamikaze pilots who took off from Cebu Air Base and died in battle. The first official kamikaze squadron, the Shikishima Squadron led by Lt. Yukio Seki, took off from Mabalacat, but other squadrons such as the Yamato Squadron from the first Kamikaze Special Attack Unit formed at Mabalacat proceeded to Cebu and took off from the airfield there to make attacks on American ships. Kawatani and Abe next fly to Leyte Island and go by boat to Leyte Gulf, where the first kamikaze attacks on American ships took place. They then fly back to Manila to tour around the city some more before their return to Japan.

Video cover. Top photo shows
Kawatani dressed in naval uniform
as he dreams that he is Vice
Admiral Ohnishi addressing
pilots of first kamikaze unit

 

Only a few details get mentioned regarding the history of the formation of the Shinpu (Kamikaze) Special Attack Corps and the first squadrons sent to crash dive into American ships. Kawatani falls asleep in the sun while lying down next to a stream near the former Mabalacat West Airfield, and he dreams that during the war he gave the speech made by Vice Admiral Takijiro Ohnishi to the pilots of the first Kamikaze Special Attack Unit at Mabalacat. The speech includes the following excerpt:

You are already gods, without earthly desires. But one thing you want to know is that your own crash-dive is not in vain. Regrettably, we will not be able to tell you the results. But I shall watch your efforts to the end and report your deeds to the Throne. You may all rest assured on this point. I ask you all to do your best. [1]

The wartime film clips included in this movie lack narration to provide historical perspective. Some extended clips, such as the Pearl Harbor attack, seem to have no relevance to the Philippine excursion of Kawatani and Abe. Other film clips, such as the American landing at Lingayen Gulf in January 1945, have no relationship to the places that the two visit in the Philippines. The most appropriate historical film clips show the pilots of the first kamikaze unit lining up at Mabalacat and the Shikishima Squadron taking off from there. The movie exhibits various Philippine places related to the war, but often only the names of places appear with no historical background provided and with no dialogue between the two main actors.

Filipinos generally do not get reflected in a positive light in this Japanese film. The few Filipinos who briefly appear in the film appear to be passive and subservient to the Japanese couple in roles such as servers at restaurants and a barber. One exception is the kind Philippine lady in Mabalacat Town who lets the two Japanese tourists tour her private home used by the 201st Air Group in WWII. The worst portrayal of Filipinos takes place after Kawatani and Abe visit Liloan Church on Cebu Island. As Kawatani is talking to a woman about buying a basket sold to tourists, she gets news that her young son is drowning in the river. One large group of Filipinos on a bridge and another on the riverbank gape at the drowning boy without moving at all to do anything. The middle-aged Kawatani immediately dives into the river when he realizes what is happening and saves the boy. He also accompanies the boy to the hospital, where he happily finds out that he will be fine.

Abe's acting fluctuates from playfully lighthearted to emotionally distressed, but at times her silliness as she talks to Kawatani seems somewhat inappropriate for the film's principal theme of wartime tragedies. Kawatani, veteran actor of dozens of films, acts troubled in his facial expressions as he visits various wartime sites and then starts thinking what happened there. Many historical film clips start as Kawatani ponders the past. The Filipino bystanders in various scenes at times make the film unintentionally humorous when they start to stare or glance at the film crew or main actors. The film's last scene in Manila has an odd air to it as Setsuko Karasuma, listed as one of the movie's three main stars, makes her only appearance as a young Japanese mother with two sons living in Manila. Abe wants to give the two boys some candy or a trinket but has nothing, so Kawatani gives them a couple of coins. Karasuma angrily comes up and slaps the coins to the ground. She berates the Japanese focus on wealth and also reminds them that many Filipinos, not just Japanese, died during WWII.

Overall, this film appears to be hastily put together with some parts lacking depth such as no narration for the wartime film clips and no explanation of the historical significance of many wartime sites visited during the duo's trek throughout the Philippines. The shallow plot lacks believability, and the film's portrayal of Filipinos does not seem very flattering.

Note

1. Source of English translation is Inoguchi and Nakajima 1958, 19.

Source Cited

Inoguchi, Rikihei, and Tadashi Nakajima, with Roger Pineau. 1958. The Divine Wind: Japan's Kamikaze Force in World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.