Wings of Defeat
By Risa Morimoto and Linda Hoaglund
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.
Lesson Plan for Wings of Defeat, a film by Risa Morimoto
To fit essential information into a one hour time slot, one must display select scenes.
Do the following:
1. Go to the Main Menu choose language and turn English subtitles on
2. Explain that Rita Morimoto, the writer and director of the film, is a Japanese-American woman who has gone to Japan to learn more about kamikaze pilots. Rita has learned that her uncle, who passed away, was a kamikaze. This issue is puzzling to Rita because her view of kamikaze as crazy suicidal madmen did not match her experience with her uncle, who was a caring and loving man. Explain that as a American, Rita is able to pose questions to kamikaze pilots who survived the war that Japanese citizens either cannot or will not. Being able to do this allows Rita to access stories that have never been told before.
3. Go to Chapter Selections
4. Choose Chapter 2: Meeting Former Kamikaze; back up to 7:00 minutes and play
5. Stop at 12:40 minutes, at the picture of Nakajima Kazuo
6. Go to Menu (Chapter Selections), Chapter 3: Pacific War Begins; back up to 14:10 minutes and play
7. Stop at 24:45 minutes, at the moving image of a plane
8. Go to Menu (Chapter Selections), Chapter 5: Firebombing of Japan and play
9. Stop at 56:20 minutes, at the moving image of a plane and before the woman starts singing “My beloved…”
10. Go to Menu (Chapter Selections), Chapter 8: Hamazono/Nakajima’s Mission and play until the movie ends or time runs out.
Follow up writing exercise:
• Reflect on the film and answer the following question:
Based on the film Wings of Defeat, describe the experience of a kamikaze pilots during WWII and explain how and why these young men became willing to do what they did. Do you think the kamikaze were heroic or crazy? Explain your answer with material from the film.