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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Under the Flag of the Rising Sun (1972)

"The government didn't ask anybody's permission to start the war. But we're the ones stuck paying for all of it."
- Sakie Togashi (Sachiko Hidari)

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: June 08, 2005

Stars: Sachiko Hidari, Tetsuro Tamba, Sanae Nakahara, Kanemon Nakamura
Director: Kinji Fukasaku

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for violence, gore, adult themes
Run Time: 01:36:25
Release Date: June 07, 2005
UPC: 037429206225
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Like probably a fair number of viewers out there, my first experience with Kinji Fukasaku was Battle Royale, his remarkable near-future tale of high schoolers forced to engage in the nastiest of survival games. While that film is still sadly unavailable in the US (though plenty of versions are out there for the region code enhanced), Home Vision has taken the very worthwhile role of releasing a variety of the late director's films on DVD. Several of these have been yakuza pictures like the classic Yakuza Papers series, and then there are the unexpected, like this film, a powerful anti-war, anti-authority tale about one man's fate on the brutal front lines of World War II, and his widow's attempts to clear his name.

Under the Flag of the Rising Sun concerns Sakie Togashi (Sachiko Hidari), a war widow whose husband (Tetsuro Tamba) was, so the only surviving document shows, executed after a court martial for desertion. Every year since the war's end (the film is set in 1971), she has appealed this status, feeling that her husband never would have abandoned his duty or country. The film opens with footage of the Emperor presenting flowers in honor of the war dead; Sakie simply wants her husband to be one of those honored, something his status as deserter will not allow. The latest bureaucrat to handle her claim tells her that during their inquiry, four members of her husband's unit failed to respond to letters asking for their recollections. If she visits them and discovers new proof, then perhaps something can be done.

Each man of the four is haunted, and in some ways ruined, by their experiences as soldiers. The first man, Terajima, lives like a refugee in a Korean shantytown on the outskirts of Tokyo. The next, Akiba, is a comedian parodying his own war days. The third, Ochi, drank himself blind after the war. The last of the four, Ohashi, is a teacher whose questions about the war throw out answers he doesn't like. A final visit to the fat cat officer who ordered the husband's execution reveals both the ruling class's disinterest in the truth as well as an unexpected and shocking surprise.

The style Fukasaku would employ in films like the Yakuza Papers series came to its full flower in this film; the extreme angles and swirling handheld camera work combine here to give cinematic weight to the off-kilter world that the men in combat live in. Similarly, when we see Sakie on the beach on her daughter's wedding night, tortured by the memories of her own lost sexual past, the camera becomes a stand-in for her lost husband, frantically traveling her body as she twists in the sand. Fukasaku likewise doesn't flinch from the horrors of war; the harrowing conditions that the men on the front lived under are bluntly presented to the viewer and it's hard not be affected by it.

The film's easy comparison is with Rashomon, due to the use of multiple versions of a story being told, but it's not entirely the same thing; Kurosawa's film had people telling multiple versions of the same story; Fukasaku has his soldiers telling different stories entirely, which may or may not even be about the same man. The differing motivations for each story are still there, though. The differing tales also make sense in that the war setting reduces each man to his essential feelings about the war: preserving one's own life, starvation, and the end cost of it all to the soldiers themselves and Japan as a nation.

The film is also not really about Sakie's husband—it's about her, and her need to have her faith in her nation and the Emperor redeemed. That her journey takes her to the bleakest of realizations is the film's final shot of reality for Sakie; she may have had her faith in her country shattered, but she is free of her long quest, and she learns that whatever the result, neither she nor her husband was likely to rest in peace. Fukasaku, always ready to point out the hypocrisies within his country and its ruling class, wouldn't have it any other way.

As this is a war film, there is a fair amount of violence, including limbs being severed, a variety of gunshot deaths, cannibalism, and other gore. The still photos include many shots of dead bodies, including atom bomb deaths. These are all fairly grisly, unsurprisingly, so if your stomach isn't up for such displays, be warned.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in its original Scope aspect ratio, the film shows its color and black and white sequences off to good effect. The still photographs used in the film have defects that cannot be helped, but their negative qualities add an air of authenticity if nothing else.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The mono soundtrack is a bit harsh at times, but it conveys the gunfire and other wartime sound effects with a jarring immediacy. Dialogue is clean sounding.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Subtitler Linda Hoaglund
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Interview with film scholar Sadao Yamane
Extras Review: Translator Linda Hoaglund, who contributed the subtitles on this release and other Fukasaku titles from Home Vision, provides a commentary track. She interviewed Fukasaku at length about this film, and includes some of his comments during the track. It's a good track, albeit with some stretches of silence. She gives a different focus, being a subtitler, and this allows some interesting facts to come up, such as mentioning how Sakie speaks in a rural dialect, which plays into her personality. A good track, and I would have liked more of it. An interview with Fukasaku scholar Sadao Yamane (05m:59s) presents further details about the making of the film and its reception within Japan. Short but certainly worth watching. The longish theatrical trailer (03m:10s) is presented in anamorphic widescreen. The insert contains the original poster art and a brief but useful essay by Japanese film scholar Tom Mes.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

A film without pretense, Under the Flag of the Rising Sun delivers a kick to the stomach and points out with frank honesty the horrors of war and the disillusionment of some Japanese after World War II. Home Vision's DVD provides a high quality presentation with some matching extras. Not recommended for a pleasant evening's entertainment, but thought-provoking and highly worthwhile.


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