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Film / August Without Emperor

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August Without Emperor (皇帝のいない八月, literally "Kôtei no inai hachigatsu") is a 1978 Japanese political thriller film directed by Satsuo Yamamoto, based off a novel by Kyûzô Kobayashi.

The film, set in 198X, is about a potential coup by a group of Right-Wing Militia Fanatics who are plotting to overthrow the current prime minister (Osamu Takizawa) and replace him with their financier, Kozo Ohata (Shin Saburi), reinstate the Emperor as sovereign, and return Japan to its prewar constitution in order to return Japan to its militant past. However the coup is exposed thanks to the efforts of Toshikura (Etsushi Takahashi) of the Public Security Intelligence Agency. Under his intelligence, and with secret CIA assistance, the JSDF cleans house and arrests the conspirators, execpt for one cell under strategist Akimasa Fujisaki (Tsunehiko Watase), who hijack the Sakura sleeper train to Tokyo with a couple of bombs onboard. Travelling as a passenger is his estranged wife, Kyoko (Sayuri Yoshinaga), torn between her loyalties to her husband and her father, Tameichiro Emi, head of the JSDF's MP forces.


This film provides examples of:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Most of Akimasa and Kyoko's time on the train involves quiet flashbacks to before their separation where Akimasa's nationalism begins to rise.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The coup is halted before it even begins, while the government decide to cut their losses and massacre the hostage-takers long with thousands of innocent people on the train. The surviving passengers who are in the hospital are going to be under public security surveillance as to make sure they don't reveal what really happened.
  • The Cameo: Too many to count, but cameos of note include Tetsuro Tamba (of You Only Live Twice and G-Men '75) appears in a bit part as JSDF general, while Kiyoshi Atsumi appears as a train passenger who states that he hasn't gotten married yet.
  • Corrupt Politician: Kozo Ohta, the coup's mastermind is one.
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  • Driven to Suicide: Kozo's mistress kills him upon deducing that he is the mastermind of the plot, but she is revealed to have killed herself at the film's end.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The entire scenario involving a nationwide coup spearheaded by rogue JSDF elements took inspiration from the 1973 Chilean coup and to a lesser degree, Yukio Mishima's abortive attempt at launching his own revolt in Japan.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Played with. While the CIA does end up helping suppress the coup (unofficially of course), their overall presence is generally portrayed in a sinister manner.
  • Hostage Situation: Most of the film's action takes place on the Real Life Japanese National Railways Sakura sleeper train (specifically the third incarnation which was in service from 1959 to 2005). Apparently, military and security experts criticized the director for this move given the impossibility of smuggling a group of armed mercenaries into a train without anyone noticing.
  • I Was Never Here: The coup's existence is largely kept under wraps by the powers that be upon its exposure in the name of public interest. The CIA's involvement in defusing it largely kept secret.
  • Impersonating an Officer: Inverted, Toshikura goes incognito as a mechanic while trying to uncover the plot. Interestingly enough, he even wears his disguise (which includes a Ford Motors crew cap) to meetings with his superiors.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: The entire story kicks off with the investigation of a shoot-out involving the police and the coup's soldiers. The major clue is the ammo used; as it happens, the plotters are armed with non-standard issue rifles.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: No political parties are mentioned by name in the film; all references to the cabinet in-power simply refer to them as "the ruling party".
  • Right-Wing Militia Fanatic: Half the film's cast are these.
  • Twenty Minutes In The Future: The film is set in the then-future year of 198X.
  • Shoot the Hostage: In a very bloody exaggeration of this trope happens in the climax as the JSDF doesn't bother trying to negociate with the hostage-takers. They simply stop the train, let the bombs onboard blow up, and gun down anybody who tries to get off. This includes the hostage-takers, the main characters, and hundreds of innocent civilians.

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