Wings of Defeat: Once, we were Kamikaze...

Companion guide to the DVD in the Japan Documentary section.
Year of Publication
Date Published
Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education
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Curriculum Unit
Average: 4.9 (8 votes)


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Wings of Defeat - Once, we were Kamikaze

Field of Interest/Specialty: History
Posted On: 02/02/2018

Curriculum Review – Alan Dines
American History/World History
Grades 7 – 9 Geibel Catholic Jr. / Senior High School
I would like to know if the material is relevant to the stated objectives of my lesson and whether it is age appropriate. The teacher’s guide and film titled “Wings of Defeat – Once, we were Kamikaze” written by Gary Mukai, is both.
The teacher’s guide and film is an outstanding presentation of the true feelings and reflective thoughts of Japanese fliers who were ordered to give up their lives in an attempt to slow the American advance in World War II. These men survived to tell their tale by the luck of fate or the fact the war had ended. The Western Allies believed the Kamikaze (Divine Wind) act of crashing their planes into ally ships was an act of a desperate people that had no regard for human life. When you listen to the individuals and their families retell their stories, you slowly begin to understand that becoming Kamikaze was a complex and difficult personal experience. It will bring their strong sense of nationalism, duty, and dedication to their Emperor into conflict with their own personal relations and beliefs. War brings death to many, in many ways. Is there much difference between a sacrificial bayonet charge into your enemies line or climbing into a plane and flying it into your enemies ships? No one wants to die unless it’s for a greater perceived good, and that was true for the Kamikaze. The film and guide offer a much better understanding of the human drama that the Kamikaze endured and why they did what they did.
There are so many applications for this film and teachers guide that it’s almost too good to be true. I would suggest the following:
1) A psychological study in comparing and analyzing the motivation of suicide attacks throughout history.
2) The influence of nationalism, duty, and religion on suicide attacks.
3) The ways humans deal with conflict and resolution.
4) Research the impact of American propaganda on the understanding of the Kamikaze.
5) Discuss the morals of the Kamikaze Vs the American use of the Atomic Bomb.
6) In what ways did the Kamikaze experience change the lives of pilots who did not die.
7) There are many others.
I give this film and teacher guide 5 out of 5 stars

Review - Documentary 'Wings of Defeat'

Field of Interest/Specialty: Social Studies
Posted On: 01/10/2016

Wings of defeat, directed by Rose Morimoto, documents the lives of several kamikaze pilots who survived World War II. Morimoto is attempting to learn more about her uncle, also a kamikaze pilot, and her own Japanese heritage. Most of the movie is in Japanese with English subtitles.
This is a wonderful documentary for anybody interested in WWII history. Too often people forget the real cost of war and ignore the fallout once wars have ended. This documentary gives invaluable insight into the culture of the kamikaze, from recruitment to training to postwar. Each of the men describes a different set of experiences. They all reported similar feelings of being abandoned by their government after the war and feeling pushed aside and ignored.
I would use this only with 11th or 12th grade students due to language & content. There are some violent scenes and some obscene language. I would also be warning the students of the content before teaching. It is best used to supplement a unit in WWII in history class. Some scenes can be used to analyze battle tactics and the psychology of war. In particular, two American navy men are interviewed about the effect the kamikaze had on them. The Japanese men also testify to why they joined the kamikaze and how it felt during the war.
Overall, Wings of Defeat is a wonderful documentary that will add another dimension to students' understanding of the kamikaze in WWII.

Kaszonyi's Review of Wings of Defeat

Field of Interest/Specialty: History
Posted On: 08/05/2013

Risa Morimoto’s Wings of Defeat is a documentary on Japanese World War II Kamikaze pilots who survived. The American-born Morimoto travels to Japan to learn more about her deceased uncle who survived his Kamikaze service, but never spoke about it for the rest of his life. Wings of Defeat focuses on the often overlooked psychological and emotional aspect of World War II from the position of the vanquished Japanese. Through a series of interviews with both former Kamikaze (some of which were speaking about their experiences for the first time in sixty years) and American seamen, Morimoto provides the viewer with a firsthand account of the final days of World War II in the Pacific.
I feel that Wings of Defeat is appropriate for high school upperclassmen and college students. Since the documentary shows a few disturbing photographs of burned corpses and dead bodies, the subject matter is more appropriate for older students to handle psychologically. I would be comfortable showing the film in my eleventh grade classroom. Before doing so, I would like more statistical information on the Kamikaze attacks. According to the PBS website on Kamikaze attacks -( 300 American warships were sunk or damaged by Kamikaze pilots, resulting in 15,000 American casualties and several thousand Japanese deaths. Morimoto claims that over 6,000 Kamikaze pilots died during their missions. My question is how many survived? Morimoto shows that Japanese men were embarrassed by their service as Kamikaze. Were all of the survivors embarrassed as time passed and Japan westernized? How can a nation that was so nationalistic and militaristic during World War II ignore men who gave such a sacrifice? These questions would come up in class discussion, and I would like to be able to give accurate answers to my students.
As previously stated, Risa Morimoto tells the story of Kamikaze pilots who survived World War II. Each man interviewed has a different story to tell. Some of these men survived because they were not deployed on an actual mission before war’s end. One man crashed landed on a Japanese island during his mission, and actually went back to the mainland to fly again. None of these men actually volunteered to be Kamikaze. All served as pilots, and were transferred to the Kamikaze division of the Japanese Air Wing. While each man seems to look at their service differently, none of them seem to feel guilty that they survived. Morimoto’s interviews show that these men were not crazed warriors who wanted to die for the Emperor. Rather, they were men trapped in a situation spiraling out of control. Some realized that the war was lost for Japan, and some did not tell their parents that they were Kamikaze. After being pumped full of sake, and given a one-way ticket to the afterlife, they did not back down from the challenge.
During the last year of World War II, the Japanese Empire was crumbling. The Japanese military was losing battle upon battle while Japanese industry could not keep close to America’s industrial production. As a result, Japan relied upon the only thing they had left: manpower. By strapping a 550 pound bomb on an aircraft, they created one of the most terrifying psychological weapons in military history: the Kamikaze. While the Kamikaze cost the United States countless lives and a tremendous amount of military supplies, they proved to be unable to stop the American onslaught. Morimoto’s interviews with American naval servicemen show the psychological impact the Kamikaze had upon the enemy. While all American sailors feared the Kamikaze, some felt sorry for their attackers did deliberately and not shoot them down, especially during the final days of the war.
Morimoto is most effective in showing the age and innocence of the Kamikaze pilot. Most of these men were not old enough to drink or vote in the United States. One man took off on his mission after learning that his wife had taken his two children and jumped into a raging river to meet him in the afterlife. They key to using Wings of Defeat in the classroom is focusing on the human element. These men knew that they were going to die, but took off anyways. What makes men do such things? They were the same age as my students, so it will be very easy to put today’s high school student in their shoes. In today’s post-Vietnam world, I will ask my students if any of them would be willing to follow in the Kamikaze’s example and die for their nation. After the vast majority of my class said no, I would explain that these Japanese men being interviewed did not have a choice. I would like them to think about what it would be like posing for a funeral portrait, and what thoughts would be going through their head as they took off from the runway, and when the enemy ships came into view. After viewing and discussing the documentary, I would ask my students to compose a 1-2 page paper explaining how they would feel and what they would be thinking about as they took off on their own Kamikaze mission. I would like them to focus on emotions and thoughts, thereby placing themselves in the cockpit of their own plane carrying one 550-pound bomb. Teaching history in today’s classroom is much more then memorizing names and dates. In my opinion, placing students in a part of our past and asking them to describe it obtains a higher level of learning. Risa Morimoto’s documentary Wings of Defeat is a useful tool in accomplishing this objective.

Review of Wings of Defeat

Field of Interest/Specialty:
Posted On: 08/05/2013

Wings of Defeat, directed by Risa Morimoto, is a documentary that attempts to portray the story of Japanese Kamikaze pilots that survived WWII. Morimoto’s quest to tell the survivors’ story is driven by questions surrounding her uncle’s past. He was a Kamikaze that survived, but never told anyone details about his military service. By interviewing both American seamen and other surviving Kamikaze, Morimoto, an American of Japanese descent, brings to light what the end of the war in the Pacific theater was like on both sides of the battlefield.
I think that this film would be best used in an 11th or 12th grade classroom due to some graphic scenes that contain pictures of dead bodies and charred corpses. (I found the pictures of the aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to be especially hard to see. I do feel that mature high school students would be able to handle viewing the film, I would just warn them first about what they would be seeing.) Also, the film is mostly in Japanese with English subtitles. While this is not an issue for many students, I think that some might have a hard time paying attention to the film in its entirety.
The documentary focuses a great deal on what motivated the Kamikaze to defend the Japanese Empire. At the end of WWII, Japan was faced with some daunting challenges, namely a lack of resources and manpower. Without a change in battle strategy, the country would be forced into disgrace and admit defeat. Many would be surprised to know that most Kamikaze did not volunteer for their mission; rather, they were forced into this “most honorable” of services for their country. Based on Morimoto’s interviews, students will learn from these survivors that most were scared and really did not want to take part in Kamikaze missions. This is a far different picture from the stereotypical crazed warrior that many Americans thought Kamikaze to be. From Morimoto’s interviews with American servicemen, viewers see the impact that Kamikaze warfare had on the Allies. American seamen were scared of the Kamikaze, but sympathized with them. One retired serviceman even says that there were Americans who probably would have acted in the same way. Even though Morimoto states that over 6,000 Kamikaze died for their country, and claimed the lives of over 15,000 Americans, their efforts were not enough and Japan had to admit defeat.
I feel as though this documentary would be especially effective in bringing history to life for students. Many of Kamikaze were in their mid to late teens (the same age as many of my students) and were fed propaganda that led them to support the glory of the cause. The documentary lends itself well to an assignment where students would have to place themselves in the Kamikaze’s position and leads to questions of how would they feel if they knew that their ultimate mission would be their last?

Wings of Defeat Film Review

Field of Interest/Specialty: High School Social Studies Teaching
Posted On: 08/05/2013

Wings of Defeat is an excellent documentary that provides an in depth view of Kamikaze warriors, who flew missions of death during WWII. This film is special is because it offers personal stories of Kamikaze pilots who survived the war.
The film is an exploration of kamikaze pilots by a young Japanese-American woman, Risa Morimoto, the writer and director of the film. At the beginning of the film, Risa explains she learned her uncle was a kamikaze pilot years after his death. Risa goes to questioning how this could be true. Her uncle was a loving man with whom Risa was very close; he was not a crazy fanatic that Risa believed the kamikaze to be. In an effort to bring her picture of her uncle together with her conceptions of kamikaze pilots, Risa goes on a journey to Japan to learn more about her uncle and the kamikaze.
On her journey Risa, interviews kamikaze pilots and Japanese citizens who survived the war. Because Risa is American, she is able to ask questions that many Japanese will not. In doing so, Risa captures powerful personal stories that have never been told before. The pilots explain that they are not especially proud of their service as kamikaze, especially since the policy of suicide missions failed to win the war. On the other hand, the pilots display a moving portrait of what it was like to be a kamikaze, the brutal training they went through, and the camaraderie these pilots developed as they faced death together.
The film uses excellent imagery and animations to help support stories told by the kamikaze. Moreover, the film uses original news footage to provide a good overview of the Pacific war. What is especially interesting is that the history is told completely from the Japanese point of view. Both citizens and kamikaze pilots discuss the power of Japanese propaganda before and during WWII. They provide a consistent picture of a society that was encouraged to support Japan and its emperor until the bitter end. It is clear that the pilots did not sign up to become kamikaze. On the contrary, many pilots signed up to fight for their country before kamikaze missions became policy. The film explains that suicide missions were a desperate attempt by a collapsing nation to gain an advantage late in the war. Interviewees explained that it became very difficult to go against orders and cultural expectations to serve the emperor. All Japanese were expected to face death for the emperor at any moment. Those who spoke up against these expectations faced military police and were put in prison. Pilots explained that it became very difficult not to complete their missions; it was difficult for pilots to watch their friends fly off to their deaths and not follow them when it was their turn to go.
The overall impression the kamikaze in this film is that they were brave and honorable young men, who did what was expected of them during World War II. The stories are sad, but they humanize the pilots and encourage viewers to question how they would react to the social and cultural pressures faced by the kamikaze. It is clear that Risa Morimoto gained a great deal of respect for the kamikaze and it would appear that she reconciled her picture of her uncle as a caring and loving man with her new picture of the kamikaze as brave men who were willing to sacrifice themselves for their country.

Hiroshima Perspective Curriculum Unit

Field of Interest/Specialty: Physics
Posted On: 06/30/2011

Jane Shamitko
Physics Teacher
Trinity High School
May 2011
I found this unit to very comprehensive resource of activities which allow students to develop their own opinion on the ethics of the Hiroshima bombing, and to explore it from both the American and Japanese perspective. The unit consists of 8 small group activities and whole class activities. I was fascinated by the selection of material - historical documents written by Henry Truman, Japanese comic books and extraordinary pictures.
The recommended time period for this unit is 1-2 class periods per activity, which mean that this could be covered in two weeks. They did say that teachers could choose to do all of the activities or only 1of 2 of them, however I feel that only a few of the activities (perhaps the ones on analyzing U.S. and Japanese Poetry, U.S. and Japanese commemorative stamps, or comparing U.S. and Japanese comic books) can be eliminated if your objective is to have students make critical decisions on the effects of the bomb on both cultures, Japan and America.
Parts of this unit could be used in other classes to just give a glimpse of the effects of the bombing of Hiroshima on both countries- for example in an English class , to compare the Japanese and American poetry of that time period or Biology to analyze the radiation effects on the survivors.
As a Physics teacher, I haven’t the time to devote to the historical perspectives of the atomic bomb (I explain the physics behind it). However, I feel that it is important for scientists and engineers to understand the ethics of scientific research. I would perhaps then assign this as a student based project (i.e. debate, pro/con papers) and allow them to use the materials in the unit as a resource
One thing I didn’t like about this unit is the use of slides. This is not user friendly for my classroom. However, I looked at the newest catalog from SPICE and I understand that there is now a CD available to replace the slides.
There are no quizzes or tests with this unit- only the handouts. However, these can be reproduced for the classroom.

Wings of Defeat, once we were Kamikaze ... Curriculum Unit

Field of Interest/Specialty: Family & Consumer Science
Posted On: 06/01/2011

The Wings of Defeat: Once, we were Kamikaze...
Reviewed by Kathy Yamatani
10th - 12th Family & Consumer Science
Chartiers Valley High School
Curriculum Unit:
Accompanying the film is a very thorough curriculum unit. It begins with letters from famous authors, professors and the film’s director, which give insight to the film and its relationship to current events ie. “9-11.” Essential questions are asked based on these letters on pg. 11. The curriculum includes National History Standards for Grades 5 - 12 and stated objectives on pg. 10 and 12. Procedures for Day 1 thru 5 are given step by step which highlight the different components of the curriculum unit:
Multiple Choice test can be used as a pre and post test for students; Maps of Japan and Asia/Pacific Region can be used as a reference while watching the movie to acquaint students with geography; Terminology and People in Wings of Defeat are also an invaluable tool for students to understand terms and people; Personal Objects is an activity that the student must choose one object to bring with them on a risky mission and explain why. Japanese items are compared to American favorite items, which help make connections to the Japanese kamikaze pilots for students; Slogans from both Japan and United States can be compared and contrasted. The importance of recognizing propaganda can be made for any society. Other activities included are diaries, newsreels, music, graphic images, memorials, film reviews, and examination of quotes. Each activity gives the student a connection to and understanding of the Japanese kamikaze perspective. The curriculum is so expansive that a teacher will have to pick and choose according to the time allotted (or possibly work with other disciplines).
The film is excellent and the curriculum unit is an invaluable resource to be used in the high school.

Review of Wings of Defeat: Once We Were Kamikaze

Field of Interest/Specialty: History
Posted On: 05/18/2011

Review by NCTA teacher Brianne Brown (Pittsburgh)
10th Grade American History II (Reconstruction - Present Day)
Plum Senior High School
Film Analysis:
Wings of Defeat: Once We Were Kamikaze is a documentary film by Risa Morimoto and Linda Hoaglund. The film follows the stories of surviving kamikaze pilots in Japan and the perspectives of American sailors (their targets). When Risa Morimoto learned that her deceased uncle was a kamikaze, she set out to discover why. Risa grew up in the United States and was raised believing, what most Americans believe, that kamikazes were crazy Japanese pilots who killed themselves during World War II. Risa travelled to Japan to find out more because certainly her uncle wasn’t one of these ‘crazy’ pilots.
The film is full of firsthand accounts of what a kamikaze is and what the orders were during World War II in Japan. Risa interviewed many men who survived their kamikaze fate. Their stories are similar and different. Each man escaped his fate as a kamikaze pilot, but their stories differ. Each speaks about the honor and dignity that was forced upon them by their culture (Emperor Hirohito). To my surprise, most of the pilots spoke negatively about the emperor, his decisions during the war, and their orders as kamikaze pilots. They knew they were dying for their country and they should be honored and happy to die such an admirable death, but many of them focused on the lives they would never know after they completed their missions.
The film itself is an excellent resource when teaching about World War II. I would suggest the film/curriculum unit to upper class (11th or 12th grade) history classes. There are some disturbing images that may not be suitable for students in 10th grade or below. In addition, there is a small amount of cursing in the film.
Curriculum Unit:
Accompanying the film is an excellent curriculum unit. I cannot praise this enough! The unit begins with suggestions for usage (courses and grade levels), a list of connection to National History Standards, an incredible amount of essential questions, and suggested objectives for the classroom. Pages 15 and 16 offer five days worth of suggested procedures. On page 13 of the curriculum unit, you will find a table of contents for the materials within the unit. This is most impressive. Any material or supplemental lesson you could think of is included in this curriculum unit.
Resources included in the curriculum unit:
• Multiple Choice/True-False Quiz: An excellent tool to ensure understanding of the material reviewed in the film. The quiz is 10 questions in length and is not too challenging if the students pay attention to the film.
• Maps of Japan: Wonderful resource for the students to get before they view the film. These detailed maps will aid the students in understanding the places described in the film.
• Map of Asia/Pacific Region: Compliments the maps of Japan. Another great tool for students to use to aid in their understanding of the places described in the film.
• A list of people in Wings of Defeat and a list of the terminology: I would suggest creating a small packet of handouts for students to review before watching the film. The packet would include the maps (described above), the list of people who appear in Wings of Defeat, and the list of terminology used. This will help students gain an understanding of the background information before viewing the film and will enhance their knowledge of the subject.
• Small Group Activities:
o Personal Objects: This is an activity where students are asked to read a small paragraph and look at pictures of Japanese objects. It is explained that many of the objects hold certain significance to Japanese people in their culture. The task is to imagine you are about to embark on a risky or uncertain mission. Each person in the group is only allowed to bring one personal object. What would it be, why, and draw a picture of it. This is a great exercise for students to discuss what is important to them and to identify with the young Japanese kamikaze pilots.
o Slogans: This exercise asks students to look at World War II slogans from Japan and those from the United States. Students are asked to compare and contrast the slogans and prepare a power point presentation of slogans to present to the class. I like this exercise as a discussion piece. I think the power point could be excluded and the slogans could be used as a discussion piece. Or the students could create their own slogans.
o Diaries: Students are asked to read sample diary entries from Japanese soldiers and to either write a poem or draw a picture that captures the essence of the entry. This is a fantastic exercise. Students have a chance to personally connect with the soldiers and utilize their artistic or written abilities.
o U.S. and Japanese Newsreels: Narratives from U.S. and Japanese newsreels are provided. Students are asked to read them and research/discuss six questions. The assignment is to develop a poster than includes a summary of the research and discussion. As an optional assignment, students who have access to a video camera can develop a one or two minute newsreel. I like this activity but I don’t think many students have access to video cameras and that is the great part about this assignment.
o Music: This activity asks students to Analyze Japanese lyrics and compare to American lyrics (“Furusato” and “America the Beautiful”). The second activity asks students who play an instrument to compose their own short tune that expresses the situation/feelings of a kamikaze. I like this activity, but again, most students probably don’t have access to/or play an instrument. This might also take a large amount of instruction time.
o Graphic Images: Students are asked to research graphic images used in a war (past or present) and create one page of a newspaper about that war based on the graphic images.
o Memorials: Asks students to write a poem about an experience they’ve had when they honored someone. This is a great writing exercise and forces the students to connect to the kamikaze pilots and their families on a deeper level.
o Film Reviews: Students are asked to write a film review for Wings of Defeat. This activity is two-fold. 1 – Students practice writing and analyzing the film. 2 – The instructor receives feedback on how the film was received by the students.
• Small Group Activities – Examination of Quotes:
o There are six activities on different perspectives of kamikazes and kamikaze strategies. These are great for discussion. Discussion prompts are provided.
This curriculum unit has so many activities; instructors would need to pick and choose wisely. I don’t think anyone has enough instruction time to incorporate all of them. They are all rich in rigor and relevance. I really enjoyed the film and found the curriculum unit to be a fabulous tool for teachers. I highly recommend this curriculum unit (again, only to upper class social studies courses).