Battle of the Pacific
The first thing to notice about Battle of the Pacific is that it’s Japanese – not as obvious a fact as you might think given that half the cast are English speaking Americans. In fact half the story is told from the American perspective – or rather here we have a Japanese version of an American perspective, made for a Japanese cinema audience, and now being marketed to the west on DVD. Sound like a bit of a muddle? Oh, it is.
I’m guessing the re-package explains the decision to drop the film’s original title, Oba: The Last Samurai. This is a big mistake, as the real focus of the film – we eventually work out for ourselves, though not before we’ve stopped caring – is the amazing true story of Japanese army officer Captain Sakae Oba (a pointlessly good performance from Takenouchi). A brilliant leader who garnered respect even from his enemies, Captain Oba kept alive a group of about 200 Japanese soldiers and civilians in the mountains of Saipan Island towards the end of the second World War, not surrendering to the U.S. forces until three months after it was over.
A Japanese war hero then, and there is more than a hint of national pride at play as ‘The Fox’, as Oba became known, consistently outwits the American military charged with flushing him out of the jungle. Of course this achievement would be a whole lot more impressive if the Americans didn’t collectively display all the guile and mental agility of Deputy Dawg. ‘Just how dumb do them fuckin’ yeller monkeys think we are?’ is generally the kind of line you’ll hear just before some slack-jawed G.I. stumbles into one of The Fox’s booby traps and is immediately exploded to death, proving that the Americans are in fact every bit as dumb as them yeller monkeys assume.
For an audience descended from the Allies, the experience at least gives us an insight into what it must be like to be German and have to sit through Raiders of the Lost Ark. Except in this case the filmmakers have made an admirable attempt to present a balanced view of the enemy, principally in the form of Japan loving nice guy Captain Lewis (McGowan). A sort of kind-faced ginger panda amongst the grizzlies, Lewis spends most of the movie trying to explain the finer points of the Japanese psyche to his mentally retarded superior, Colonel Pollard, played with an apparent disdain for even the basics of good acting by Daniel Baldwin. Even with its terrible script, largely wooden cast, and cheesy scoring, Baldwin’s performance as Colonel Pollard still manages to be one of Battle of the Pacific’s low points; his most impressive contribution being an ability to create interestingly shaped sweat marks in peculiar places around his torso.
While there is no doubt a decent movie to be made of the story of Captain Oba, this isn’t it. Fatally bogged down by its own historical accuracy, this will grab only those of us very, VERY interested in WWII. For the rest this potentially fascinating material would have been far better edited into a really good docudrama. If they ever do make a proper dramadrama out of it, let’s hope it actually is with Martin Sheen this time – or if they really must, at least a higher standard of Baldwin. Just not Stephen. Or Billy.