Film Review: The Eternal Zero

By Joy Chiang Ling

Takashi Yamazaki’s war drama, The Eternal Zero, is both a history lesson and engaging story about an unlikely hero: a Kamikaze pilot. It begins in the year 2004, when 26 year old Kentaro Oishi and his older sister, Keiko, find out that their maternal grandfather, Kenichiro, isn’t really their grandfather. Their real grandfather is Kyuzo Miyabe, a talented pilot who was regarded as a coward for not participating in battles during World War II. His two grandchildren seek out and interview several of his wartime comrades, who are now aging and approaching the end of their generation.

Although regarded as a coward by a majority of the interviewees, some remember Miyabe fondly. Through these grateful interviewees, Kentaro and Keiko learn about Miyabe’s strong will to survive, and how his attitude (considered cowardly at the time) influenced the people around him, including former rivals, pupils and officers. As Kentaro becomes more and more engrossed in his grandfather’s history, he finds out about his grandfather’s feats during events such as the Attack on Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Midway and the Bombing on Rabaul, and eventually discovers his true reason for volunteering in a Kamikaze attack.

It is a little difficult to determine whether The Eternal Zero could be considered propaganda for Japanese militarism. Although it portrays its protagonist, Miyabe, as a noble hero who sacrificed his life for the sake of his family and friends, it seems to paint the former Imperial Japanese military in a negative light. The higher-ups of the military are ruthless, cruel and immoral. What they did to their own soldiers – by commanding them to pointlessly kill themselves for war – is considered a depraved act, even by the modern generation of Japanese people.

Still, the film remains controversial, particularly among the Chinese and Korean viewers whose countries have been victimized by the Japanese during World War II. Despite this controversy, The Eternal Zero is masterfully executed, and will leave its viewers with heavy emotions and a lasting impression.

The Eternal Zero will be featured in the New York Asian Film Festival, which spans from June 27 to July 14, 2014. It will be held at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Subway Cinema.It will be also screened at Japan Society on July 12 at 3pm at Japan Society.

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