History in Popular Culture: Movies

Each country, each culture, immortalizes its history in film in different ways.  Below are presented a sketch of some of the more famous movies pertaining to the war in the Pacific theater by the different countries of the region.  This list does not imply the Memory and Reconciliation Project's endorsement, and is not intended as a comprehensive archive.  We encourage additional suggestions from our readers

China / Taiwan

地道战 (Di Dao Zhan)
Director:
Xudong Ren (任旭东
Starring: Longguang Zhu (
朱龙广), Yongshou Zhang (张勇手), Xiujie Liu (刘秀杰)
Released: 1965 (China)

Set in one of the Resistance Japanese Invasion Bases during WWII, the film depicts how the people used tunnels that connected the houses in the village to resist the Japanese. It praises the heroism demonstrated by the Chinese soldiers and the Chinese people during the war.

南京大屠杀 (Nan Jing Da Tu Sha)
Editors: Zhongming Gao
(高仲明), Yufeng Liu (刘玉峰)
Released: 1982 (China)

This black and white documentary explores the atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Nanjing Massacre in 1937.  It argues that 300,000 Chinese people were killed and most of them were Chinese civilians and disarmed Chinese soldiers.

南京大屠杀 (Nan Jing Da Tu Sha)
Director: Ziniu Wu (
吴子牛)
Starring:
Han Qin (秦汉), Yiyuan Zao (早乙媛), Ruoying Liu (刘若英), Yida Chen (陈逸达)
Released: 1995 (China and Taiwan)

Through the stories of Doctor Xian Cheng and his Japanese wife, and Teacher Shuqing Liu and her boyfriend Tianyuan Deng, this film reveals that not only in and around the city of Nanjing, but also in the 'Safety Zone' the Japanese Imperial Army killed people during the Nanjing Massacre in 1937. Among them, even innocent Japanese were killed, like Xian Cheng’s wife. This film argues that 300,000 people were brutally killed during the massacre.

(A Ma De Mi Mi)
Released: 1998 (Taiwan)

This is the first documentary made on former comfort women in Taiwan. The documentary interviews thirteen former comfort women and provides an in-depth look into their lives.

五月八月 (Wu Yue Ba Yue)
Director: Kewei Du (
杜可威)
Starring: Xinchen Xu (
徐忻辰), Lier Qiu (裘立尔), Quan Lin (林泉), Tong Ye (叶童)
Released:   2002 (Hong Kong)

This film uses the 1937 Nanjing Massacre as its historical setting.  Through the depiction of the tragic stories of the family of May and August, whose father was killed during the Nanjing Massacre and whose mother was raped by Japanese soldiers, it reveals the atrocities that were committed by the Japanese Imperial Army.

Japan

ハワイ・マレー沖海戦 (Hawai mare-oki kaisen)
Director
Kajiro Yamoto (山本嘉次郎)
Starring: Kaoru Ito (
伊藤薫), Denjiro Okouchi (大河内伝次郎)
Released: 1942

A film created during WWII by the Japanese Naval press bureau.  It portrays the success of Pearl Harbor.

長崎の歌は忘れじ (Nagasaki no uta wa wasureji)
Director: Tomotaka Tasaka (
田坂具隆)
Starring: Arlington Roleman, Machiko Kyo (
京マチ子), and Yoshiko Kuga (久我美子)
Released: 1952

Set in Nagasaki, an American pianist visits Japan to look for the hometown of the Japanese soldier who passed on his unfinished song to the pianist.

ビルマの竪琴 (Biruma no tategoto)
Director: Kon Ichikawa (
市川こん)
Starring: Rentaro Mikuni (
三國連太郎), Shoji Yasui (安井昌二)
Released: 1956

A film about a Japanese lance corporal who goes to look for the remaining Japanese soldiers in Burma after the end of the war.  He goes missing but later appears as a monk.

太平洋奇跡の作戦 キスカ (Taiheiyou kiseki no sakusen  kisuka)
Director: Seiji Maruyama (
丸山誠二)
Starring: Toshiro Mifune (
三船敏郎), Sou Yamamura (山村聡)
Released: 1965

Depicts one of the few successful naval battles by Japan, Kisuka.

日本のいちばん長い日 (Nihon no ichiban nagai hi)
Director: Kihachi Okamoto (
岡本喜八)
Starring: Toshiro Mifune (
三船敏郎), Sou Yamamura (山村聡)
Released: 1967

Depicts the last 24 hours before Japan’s defeat.

ああ同期の桜 (Ah douki no sakura)
Director: Sadao Nakajima (
中島貞夫)
Starring: Kouji Tsuruda (
鶴田浩二), Ken Takakura (高倉健), Hiroki Matsukata (松方弘樹)
Released: 1967

A film based on the diary of naval suicide-attack trainees.

ああ海軍 (Ah kaigun)
Director: Mitsuo Murayama (
村山三男)
Starring: Kichiemon Nakamura (
中村吉右衛門), Ken Utsui (宇津井健)
Released: 1969

Action movie about Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Midway, and other naval battles.

海軍特別年少兵 (Kaigun tokubetsu nenshouhei)
Director: Tadashi Imai (
今井正)
Starring: Takeo Chii (
地井武男), Katsuhiko Sasaki (佐々木勝彦)
Released: 1972

Focuses on a group of young soldiers in the battle of Iwo-Jima.

連合艦隊 (Rengoukantai)
Director: Shuue Matsubayashi (
松林宗恵)
Starring: Toshiyuki Nagashima (
永島敏行), Kenichi Kaneda (金田賢一)
Released: 1981

About the initial success and then fall of the Japanese combined fleet during the Pacific War.

戦場のメリークリスマス (Senjyo no Meri Kurisumasu)
Director: Nagisa Oshima (
大島渚)
Starring: David Bowie, Ryuichi Sakamoto (
坂本龍一), Beat Takeshi (ビーたけし)
Released: 1983

Depicts the wartime conflict as well as unusual friendships between Japanese and British soldiers. Takes place in the mountains of Java during the Pacific War.

零戦燃ゆ (Zerosen moyu)
Director: Toshio Masuda (
舛田利雄)
Starring: Daijiro Tsutsumi (
堤大治郎), Yuzo Kayama (加山雄三)
Released: 1984

Depicts the history of Zero (Japanese airplane) fighters and the friendship that occurs between a Zero pilot and a Zero mechanic.

火垂るの墓 (Hotaru no haka)
Director: Isao Takahata (
高畑勲)
Released: 1988

An animated movie about a 4-year-old girl and her 14-year-old brother who strive to live by themselves inside a bomb shelter during the air raid on Tokyo.

君を忘れない (Kimi wo wasurenai)
Director: Takayoshi Watanabe (
渡邊孝好)
Starring: Toshiaki Karasawa (
唐沢寿明), Takuya Kimura (木村拓哉)
Released: 1995

Set towards the end of the war, this movie portrays the friendship of seven Japanese pilots in the naval air squad.

Pride (Unmei no toki)
Director: Shunya Ito
Starring: Ronny Cox, Masahiko Tsugawa, Ayumi Ishida, Suresh Oberoi
Released: 1998

A favorable biopic of Hideki Tojo, this film focuses on Tojo's leadership and nationalism, as well as his 1948 trial and execution for war crimes. 

South Korea

전쟁과 인간 (Jeon jaeng kwa in kan)
Director: Shin, Sang-ok (신상옥)
Starring: Nam, Gung-won (남궁원), Park, No-shik (박노식), Kim, So-ra (김소라)
Released: 1971

During the period of Japanese imperialism, a Korean student, Jin-ho, falls in love with and marries Sakiko, a daughter of a Japanese general. Jin-ho becomes hunted by the general’s party, but is determined to pursue his love until the end.  This movie won the Director Award and Best Actor Award at the 1971 Taipei Asia-Pacific Awards and the Production Award, Scenario Award, Music Award and Director Award at the 1972 Baek-Sang Art Awards.

의사 안중근 (Ui sa An Jung Keun)
Director: Joo, Dong-jin (주동진)
Starring: Kim, Jin-kyu (김진규)
Released: 1972

A biographical movie portraying the life of An Jung-keun, the man who shot Ito Hirobumi, was arrested and died for Korea.  This movie won the Planning Award and Music Award at the 1972 Blue Dragon Awards, the Best Production Award and Art Award at the 1972 Grand Bell Awards, and the Art Award at the 1973 Baek-Sang Art Awards.

일송정 푸른 솔은 (Il song jung pu run sol un)
Director: Lee, Jang-ho (이장호)
Starring: Jin, Yoo-young (진유영), Yoon, Yang-ha (윤양하)
Released: 1983

After the 1910 Korea-Japan Annexation Treaty, the leaders of the national independence movement, including general Kim Joa-jin, fought against the Japanese army and won.  This is a movie depicting this fight.  This movie won the Production Award, Art Award, and Special Award at the 1983 Grand Bell Awards.

장군의 아들 I, II, and III (Jang goon ui ah dul)
Director: Lim Kwon-taek (임권택)
Starring: Park Sang-min (박상민)
Released: 1990, 1991, and 1992

Based on the true story of Kim Doo-han, a son of famous Korean general Kim Joa-jin who fought for Korea’s independence continued his father’s struggle against Japanese aggression in Seoul even after the Liberation in 1945.  These movies won the 1991 New Male Actor Award at the Grand Bell Awards and, in 1990 and 1991, the Most Audience-Attended Movie of the Year.

시라소니 (Sirasoni)
Director: Lee, Il-mok (이일목)
Starring: Kim, Jong-min (김종민), Kim, Jung-gyun (김정균), Kim, Jae-yeop (김재엽), Lee, Sung-hoon (이성훈)
Released: 1992

Under the rule of the Japanese during the 1930s, Sirasoni smuggled items between Korea and China, opposing Japan’s ban on trade.  During this time, he was continuously chased by a Japanese police chief, Harada.  This movie portrays this.

태백산맥 (Tae baek san maek)
Director: Lim Kwon-taek (임권택)
Starring: Ahn Sung-kee (안성기), Kim Myoung-kwon (김명권), Kim Kap-soo (김갑수), Jung Kyoung-soon (정경순)
Released: 1994

After liberation from the Japanese in 1945, three key figures representing capitalism, socialism, and nationalism, respectively, confront each other on ideological grounds and in a landowner-tenant conflict.

로스트 메모리즈 2009 (Lost Memories: 2009)
Director: Lee, Si-myung (이시명)
Starring: Jang, Dong-kun (장동건), Nakamura Toru (나카무라 토오루)
Released: 2001

A science fiction movie depicting Japanese imperialism.  Although ‘Chosun’ has lost its name, the fight between the anti-government resistance and a Japanese foundation continues.

바람의 파이터 (Ba ram ui fighter)
Director: Yang Yoon-ho (양윤호)
Starring: Yang Dong-geun (양동근)
Released: 2004

Based on the true story of Choi Bae-dal, a Korean warrior who struggled against the world he lived in, the Japanese warrior-world he claimed to be a part of, and against himself.

U.S.A.

Back to Bataan
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Starring: John Wayne, Anthony Quinn
Released: 1945  

John Wayne stars as Colonel Joe Madden, who organizes resistance fighters, and Anthony Quinn as Captain Andres Bonifacio, the leader of the Filipino guerillas.  The film, based on actual events and written as a history of what what happening, is a story about the Filipino people and their fight for freedom from the Japanese.  As such, this film touches on various aspects of what US soldiers encountered in Bataan: captivity, Death March, POW camps, and ‘hell ships.’  The film presents a good-versus-evil attitude that was prevalent in Hollywood at the time with no subtleties or gray areas: the Japanese are portrayed as cowardly murderers and the Americans as noble freedom fighters.

Sands of Iwo Jima
Director: Allan Dwan
Starring: John Wayne, John Agar
Released: 1950

John Wayne stars as Marine Sergeant John M. Stryker in this film taking place in the battle of Iwo Jima. The movie focuses on the strength of John Wayne’s character and his efforts to mold his squad of young recruits into fighting Marines.  While the battle scenes on Iwo Jima run for a duration of approximately 20 minutes, an interesting fact of this movie is that the three survivors of the famous flag raising on Mt. Surabachi (Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, and John Bradley) actually took part in the flag raising in the movie.

Battle of Coral Sea
Director: Paul Wendkos
Starring: Cliff Robertson, Gia Scala, Teru Shimada, Patricia Cutts, Rian Garrick
Released: 1959

This movie focuses on the preparation stage of the May 8, 1942 battle of which this movie is named.  While the historical event is remembered due to the fact that it is the first time in history that a battle is fought between two aircraft carriers, the movie focuses more on an Allied submarine that finds Japanese installations, ships, and subs and, upon its return to friendly waters to inform the Allies, is captured by the Japanese and the crew are taken prisoner.  The movie then focuses on the crew’s attempt to escape to inform the Allied commanders of their findings.

Tora! Tora! Tora!
Director: Toshio Masuda, Richard Fleischer
Starring: Martin Balsam, So Yamamura
Released: 1970

The docu-drama is the first wartime film co-produced by both Japanese and American producers.   The movie does not focus on any central set of characters but instead recreates the 18-months of events leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor from the perspective of a news correspondent, presenting both the Japanese and American viewpoints.  The title refers to the code used to inform the Japanese that the Americans had been caught by surprise.

Midway
Director: Jack Smight
Starring: Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda
Released: 1976

The movie focuses on the battles of Coral Sea (May 1942) and Midway (June 1942).  The latter battle is the movie’s primary focus, highlighting how US forces fought and severely damaged the Japanese Imperial Navy and its Flying Corps while outnumbered four to one, thereby forcing Japan’s first major strategic reversal and providing for the Americans a significant turning point.  Interesting to note, the movie includes actual footage shot during WWII by filmmaker John Ford.