Cowardice is not as frequent within war movies as one would expect. It often lingers as a slight variation of fear, a gut feeling that a one-line extra will throw out there to give the hero a masculine bravado. Understanding the failure of military leaders from beyond a Western perspective is difficult, especially when so much of the Hollywood machine is focused on the heroics of America. Post-war filmmaking from the U.S.S.R in particular was a fascinating pocket of sub-genre brilliance, capturing the futility and fear present during the final days of fighting, and the immediate impact that followed. Under the Flag of the Rising Sun, a film from director Kinji Fukasaku, details the impacts the horrors of the Second World War and the poor leadership of Axis powers left on innocent bystanders, numbed by fear and gripped by a growing isolation.
Sakie Togashi (Sachiko Hidari) is tormented by the conflicting statements she receives from four men who fought alongside her husband. They paint intense, differing narratives of not just what her husband did, but how they themselves conducted their behaviour on the battlefield. Even the field of combat changes, the tone, time of day, the little silver linings that lingered underneath the death and destruction. Fukasaku issues these moments with great brevity and detail, allowing him to turn in four very differing, but equally as engaging, studies of warfare. Lies and deceit are a given, but Fukasaku holds his characters together long enough, planting small seeds out doubt with great effectiveness.
An incredible musing is then constructed, jolting us back to the opening of the film, with an orchestral introduction, the life of a struggling widow upended by bureaucracy and the uncaring, cold hand of a generation that has no consideration for sacrifice. It does not seem that those who knew her husband intimately, like she could not have known him, are lying to her also. They protect their bruised egos, their inability to let go of their own failings in the face of danger a sore spot to even consider when speaking of others in this period, let alone themselves. Such tragedy is captured with immense style and a formidable form rarely replicated elsewhere. See The Cranes are Flying for a Russian perspective, Vera Drake for a slightly later variant of British culture, but for Japan’s post-war horrors, Under the Flag of the Rising Sun is the perfect mixture of themes and messages.
And as those violins waver with innate beauty, Under the Flag of the Rising Sun soon turns its attention to the real issue at hand. Decades after the war, a widow seeks to right the wrongs of the past and clear her husband’s name of disgrace. As touching a story it may be, Under the Flag of the Rising Sun peppers its heart-breaking moments with alarming, agitated facts that describe the horrors of war not just on those fighting, but those merely surviving. A war fought and lost by the men who started it, maimed, missing or miserable after their foolhardy efforts to protect their crumbling patriotism failed. Under the Flag of the Rising Sun is an essential dissemination of post-war conflict, not between countries, but between people.