August 11, 2005

Japan war movie sounds nationalist call to arms

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - Grim-faced foreign agents, armed with a
stolen chemical weapon, take over a Japanese warship and power
toward Tokyo, bent on destroying the metropolis.

The nightmare scenario begins Japan's newest hit movie, a
bloody action film set on a destroyer equipped with an Aegis
missile-detection system and the latest in a string of war
films that analysts say may reflect rising nationalism.

The movie's July 30 release came in the buildup to the 60th
anniversary on Aug. 15 of Japan's surrender in World War II. It
also coincides with diplomatic strains with Asian neighbors
over how Japan views its wartime past, worries over North
Korea's nuclear arms and moves to revise Japan's pacifist

Its message, that Japan has the right to actively defend
itself against enemies, has hit a nerve with the public, with
more than 710,000 having seen it since its release.

"It's essential that we have a deterrent against invasion,"
said businessman Hiroto Imamura, 30. "Even now, there are
countries near Japan that could attack us.

"The main message of the movie is that Japan's military
can't defend itself properly without legislative changes, which
they are trying to do now," he added. "I'm in favor of that."

Japan's postwar constitution bans the right to maintain a
military but has been interpreted as allowing self-defense
forces, and moves to revise it are gaining momentum.

Analysts said fading memories of Japan's defeat mean young
people may be less leery of things military than their elders.

"For most of them, it would kind of be glamorous, a path
that's so distant emotionally," said John Clammer, a professor
of comparative culture at Tokyo's Sophia University.

"Even their parents are likely to be baby boomers with few
memories of hard times after the war," he added. "So for them
it's OK again because it doesn't have that sort of resonances."


"Bokoku no Aegis," or "Aegis of the Doomed Country," is
from a best-selling book by Harutoshi Fukui, whose novels were
made into two other war movies this year. A movie set on a
World War II battleship is due out in December.

In "Aegis," a Japanese officer risks his life to wrest
control of the ship from enemy agents whose origins are
unspecified but who appear to be either Chinese or North

"Look at this, you Japanese. This is war," the agents'
leader sneers, calling the Japanese "tame and submissive."

The agents board the ship with help from a group of
mutinous officers who hope to revive a sense of pride in their
jaded countrymen.

"A self-defense force that can't strike first isn't a real
self-defense force," one says, referring to Japan's military.
"A country that doesn't recognize that is a failure as a

The military and Defense Ministry personnel are the only
true heroes. Summoned to deal with the crisis, the prime
minister growls: "Hurry up, I have to get back to the

Film makers at the studio that produced the movie, Nippon
Herald Films Inc, said it was meant as entertainment, nothing

"We weren't making a political movie," said producer
Shunsuke Nagayama. "We wanted to make an action movie, like
'Die Hard', about standing up for your fellow man."

Chief producer Shohei Kotaki said a desire to avoid
politics was behind a decision not to specify the agents'
nationality, which in the book was North Korean, but moviegoers
were not fooled.

"The agents were definitely North Korean," said Nobuo
Kurata, 69, who added: "It's really important that we can
defend ourselves, not always depend on the Americans."

In a first, Japan's navy, called the Maritime Self-Defense
Force (MSDF), cooperated with filming and allowed the use of a
real Aegis ship, one of four that are key to a planned
missile-defense system to focus mainly on North Korea, which
fired a Taepodong missile over Japan in 1998.

"After Sept. 11, many things changed in Japan," said
Toshiyuki Ito, chief of public affairs for the MSDF.

"We also had the North Korean missile and incidents with
suspicious (North Korean) ships, all of which have changed the
way ordinary Japanese think."

Producer Kotaki said that despite its gory fight scenes the
movie actually argued against militarism.

"Yes, the main character is fighting a lot, but it's
kicking and hitting, things like that. He doesn't pick up a gun
until he's absolutely forced to by the threat to Tokyo -- and
that's our real message."