August 15, 2005

SCOTT JOHNSON says that reviewers are missing the point of The Great Raid.

I haven’t seen the film. Having read Hampton Sides’ book, Ghost Soldiers, on which the movie is based, it seems to me that the story would have to be terrific, though I suppose Hollywood is capable of ruining anything . . . .

The audience reviews of the film seem to be very positive, though, and I suspect that they’re more reliable than the comments of the professional reviewers.

UPDATE: Here’s a review of “The Great Raid” by a military historian:

That is one thing that makes The Great Raid so remarkable. It is a Hollywood movie, made by a guy in Harvey Weinstein who has been pretty active from the left of American politics. If it is politically incorrect to portray a negative vision of the Japanese in World War II, then there would seem to be no way that Miramax was going to do it.

But the Great Raid is unflinching in its depiction of Japanese crimes. Japanese police torture and execute Filipinos and others who may or may not have been in the resistance. The movie begins, as did the book Ghost Soldiers, with Japanese guards herding POWs into an air raid trench, dousing them with gasoline, and lighting them on fire. Japanese guards beat, purposefully starve, and summarily execute prisoners throughout the film. This brutality is central to the film: the Japanese were going to execute all of the roughly 500 prisoners in the Cabanatuan camp—that’s why the Americans had to stage the raid. The movie does not sugarcoat the reality; it sticks as close to the truth as possible.

That is ultimately what makes The Great Raid compelling and watchable: it is so damn sincere. They wanted to get it right. They wanted to do justice to the story.

Sounds pretty positive to me.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Robert Greer emails:

I fear your cited reviewer (Tom from The Big Tent ) and by implication, you, may be missing the point in regard to Miramax’s depiction of Japanese cruelty in The Great Raid. The Japanese have lined up pretty much four square on the side of the Bush Administration in the War on Terror. Bashing the Japanese these days — by depicting their horrific cruelty during WWII — has the side effect of undermining the moral legitimacy that Japanese support of the war in Iraq provides to Bush. The Japanese just aren’t politically correct these days. So Weintstein and Miramax probably feel okay with the harshness of their film vis-a-vis Japan.

I haven’t seen the film so I don’t know if that would impact my suspicions here, but that’s the only explanation I could come up with and it seems to fit here. As I’m sure you’re aware, the Japanese have become somewhat of a “whipping boy” these days: witness the inexcusable activities of the Chinese government recently in stirring up anti-Japanese sentiments and riots a few months ago. That met with all too little outrage by the world at large, I think in part, because of their (the Japanese’s) relatively pro-American stance. I don’t mean to excuse the brutality of the Japanese during that time, but it just seems a little too convenient, given, as you note, the tendency in recent years, to portray them as victims rather than the victimizers that they indeed were.

Hmm. I don’t know if I’m that suspicious of big-media agendas or not.

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