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Film / Destination Tokyo

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Destination Tokyo is a 1943 American wartime propaganda film directed by Delmer Daves—it was his directorial debut.

It involves the fictional mission of of a fictional submarine, the USS Copperfin, in the Pacific theater of World War II. The Copperfin, led by Captain Cassidy (Cary Grant), leaves San Francisco on Christmas Eve 1941 on a secret mission. After 24 hours at sea Cassidy unseals his orders and gets a surprise: his ship is to go all the way to Tokyo Bay. The extremely hazardous mission requires that Cassidy somehow enter Tokyo harbor without being observed, and then land a shore party which will perform reconnaissance for an upcoming carrier-based bombing raid on Japan. (Namely, the Doolittle Raid, dramatized in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.)

Cassidy swings by the Aleutians to pick up one Lt. Raymond, who speaks Japanese and is to lead the shore mission. Their hazardous mission is made even more eventful when a young seaman falls ill and requires an emergency appendectomy. The Copperfin does eventually manage to sneak into the bay, but getting out will be no easier than getting in.

John Garfield plays "Wolf", a sailor who tells tall tales about all the women he's supposedly bedded.


  • Artistic License – History: There's the whole business about a submarine being in Tokyo Bay before the Doolittle Raid, and the sinking of a Japanese aircraft carrier when the first Japanese carrier to be sunk in the war didn't happen until the Battle of the Coral Sea in May.
    • Then there's the performance of American torpedoes. In the movie Cassidy attacks twice and sinks two ships, a carrier and a destroyer. In reality American torpedoes at this stage of the war were nearly worthless, usually either missing a target low or detonating prematurely or failing to explode when they did manage to hit a hull.
    • The submarine leaves port 17 days after the Pearl Harbor attack. Crewmembers, however, refer to multiple previous long-duration "war patrols."
  • Band of Brothers: The bond between the sailors is shown by how they give each other Christmas presents after leaving port on Chrismtas Eve. Later Cassidy remarks on how the officers and men on a submarine are closer than they are on surface ships.
  • Blatant Lies: Wolf tells a story about how he picked up some girl who "comes up right to my chin", when the flashback playing along with it shows the woman to be half a head taller than he is. Of course, later dialogue indicates that all of Wolf's stories might be Blatant Lies.
  • Book Ends: The sub leaves San Francisco at the beginning of the movie and returns at the end.
  • Burial at Sea: Mike the torpedo mate is buried at sea after he's stabbed in the back by a Japanese pilot.
  • Cunning Linguist: Lt. Raymond is brought along on a surveillance mission because (although he is not Asian) he grew up in Japan. He knows the area around Tokyo Bay and is also fluent in Japanese. They will transmit their coded information in Japanese so it will take longer for the Japanese to realize it's a foreigner sending it.
  • Flashback: Wolf's tale of picking up a girl at a record shop. Brief shots of Captain Cassidy's home life (he's married and a father of two).
  • In the Back: The Copperfin shoots down a Japanese torpedo plane. They attempt to rescue the pilot who bails out, only for the pilot to fatally stab Mike the torpedo mate In The Back as Mike is hauling him onboard.
  • Meatgrinder Surgery: Pills the pharmacist's mate performs an emergency appendectomy on one of his crewmates.
  • The Needs of the Many: As they sail away from the encounter with the torpedo plane, Cassidy tells his second-in-command to dive the ship if another torpedo plane shows up. This despite the fact that Cassidy will be in the bow along with Adams trying defuse a bomb, and will drown if the ship dives.
  • News Travels Fast: The captain asks for a particular chart. The man who fetches it shows the title to half-a-dozen men before passing it to the captain and they immediately scatter to tell everyone else. Before the captain can officially announce their destination, a new edition of the unit paper is out and Japanese music is playing over the intercom.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: All the characters have nicknames, and some of them never get named properly, like Wolf the Casanova Wannabe, or "Tin Can" who thirsts for revenge against the Axis because his uncle was executed by the Nazis, or "Pills" the medic.
  • Straw Atheist: Pills talks about how he doesn't believe in God or prayers or anything and is even asked if he's an atheist. This is all to set up the scene at the end where he admits that prayer does work, after Adams survives his appendectomy.
  • Sub Story: A submarine goes on a difficult mission to Tokyo Bay.
  • Time Passes Montage: A line on a map traces the path of the Copperfin from the Aleutians to the coast of Japan, as various sub-related activities take place on screen.
  • Tokyo Rose: Heard from as the shore party is rigging up their radio in a cave by the beach. Crosses with Coincidental Broadcast when Rose talks about how no American ship dares come within 500 miles of the Japanese home islands and how the U.S. submarine fleet has been destroyed.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: All of this movie is fictional except for the scene where the ship's medic has to perform an emergency appendectomy on a crewman at sea. That actually happened aboard a real US submarine, the Seadragon.
  • Visual Title Drop: A crewman typing up the ship's newsletter types up "DESTINATION: TOKYO".
  • Voiceover Letter: A variation. After Mike is killed by the Japanese pilot, his buddies go through his belongings. They find a phonograph record which turns out to be a love letter from his wife.