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Film / Japan's Longest Day

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Japan's Longest Day is a 1967 film from, yep, Japan, directed by Kihachi Okamoto.

It is the story of Japan's surrender at the end of World War II. The film kicks off with the release of the Potsdam Declaration spelling out Allied terms for Japanese surrender. Foreign Minister Togo believes that Japan should take the deal—the people are starving, Japan's cities are being wiped out by American bombs, and an American invasion is looming—but other factions such as Minister of War Korechika Anami (Toshiro Mifune) believe that for the honor of the nation and the military, Japan should fight to the last. Prime Minister Suzuki elects to wait on events.

Most of the film takes place on the eponymous "longest day", August 14-15, 1945. The equation changes after the Americans drop bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the USSR enters the war against Japan, thus exposing Japan to possible invasion from the north as well as the south. Emperor Hirohito tells his cabinet that he has decided to accept the Potsdam Declaration and surrender. Telegrams are sent to the Allied governments and the Emperor records a speech in which he will announce to the nation that Japan is surrendering. However, junior Army officers who wish to fight on launch a desperate coup in which they hope to take custody of the Emperor and stop the surrender broadcast from going out.

Compare The Emperor in August, a 2015 Japanese film that dramatized these same events.


  • Barefoot Poverty: An insane officer in Yokohama gathers his "men"—teenaged boys, actually—and starts screaming at them that despite the rumors of surrender Japan must resist to the last man. As the officer is screaming, the camera makes a point of showing that one of the boys is barefoot and another is wearing rags on his feet.
  • Cut Phone Lines: Hatanaka and his goons do this in the crudest possible way in the Imperial Palace, by taking axes and hacking up everything in the switchboard room.
  • Driven to Suicide: Hatanaka shoots himself in a public park after the coup fails.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Technically the film covers the Potsdam Declaration to surrender, so, almost three weeks. But most of that is in the 20-minute Prolonged Prologue and rest of the film is only a little more than 24 hours, August 14-15.
  • Fighter-Launching Sequence: Seen at the Atsugi air base, when the commander refuses to accept the Japanese surrender and launches his planes anyway.
  • Flashback: A historical flashback about 20 minutes in notes how the Japanese war started with six months of uninterrupted triumphs—Pearl Harbor, the conquest of Singapore, etc—before things went south with the Japanese defeat at Midway and got steadily worse from there.
  • General Ripper: There are a lot of deranged officers in the Japanese military, like Admiral Onishi, who runs the kamikaze and wants to use twenty million kamikaze (a fifth of the entire Japanese population) against the Americans.
  • High-Pressure Blood:
    • A lot of blood spurting three feet or so out from people as General Mori and his aide are murdered by Hatanaka and his men.
    • Another garden hose shoots out of Anami as he finishes off his act of ritual seppuku by slicing his throat.
  • Historical Domain Character: All of them, this being a docudrama about real history.
  • In Medias Res: The movie hits the ground running, starting right off the bat with the receipt of the Potsdam Declaration instead of, say, showing characters getting appointed to offices or having dialogue about Japan needing to surrender.
  • Invisible President: Hirohito's face is never shown clearly. His face can be glimpsed a couple of times from a distance and not quite in focus, but for most of the movie we see the back of his head, or we see his gloved hands as he grips his chair, or his face is hidden by a Scenery Censor. It was considered taboo at this time to show the Emperor's face onscreen (and it would remain taboo until a Russian film about Hirohito called The Sun was shown in Japan in 2006).
  • The Ken Burns Effect: The camera sometimes pans up still photos, like stills of the devastation and charred corpses at Nagasaki, or a pan up the famous "raising of the flag at Iwo Jima" photo as the film notes how the war turned bad for Japan.
  • Large Ham: Not quite a World of Ham as there are a few restrained performances (Hirohito, PM Suzuki, the radio crew), but there are several characters bellowing dialogue at the top of their lungs. The biggest standout is Major Hatanaka, leader of the coup, who screams almost every line and bugs out his eyes as well.
  • Left Hanging: After orders go out that Japan will be surrendering, the commander of the air squadron at Atsugi simply ignores them, and sends out another kamikaze flight anyway. The film does not show what happened to the flight after it takes off.note 
  • Let the Past Burn: Lt. Col. Ida walks out into the courtyard and sees people burning documents. They are obviously trying to avoid sensitive documents falling into the hands of the Americans now that the Emperor has decided to surrender, but Ida notes the symbolism, bitterly saying "Let it all burn."
  • Manly Tears: There is a lot of crying after the Emperor tells the Cabinet his decision to surrender, starting with Hirohito—he is shot from behind to avoid showing his face but he is dabbing his face with a handkerchief.
  • Match Cut: The camera focuses on a fan in Captain Kozono's office as he says he's launching an attack flight against the Americans. The film then cuts from the spinning blades of the fan to the spinning propeller blades of a Japanese plane as it starts up.
  • The Mutiny: Major Hatanaka and a group of fanatical junior officers mutiny, attempting a coup with hopes of taking possession of the government and the Emperor and reversing Hirohito's decision to surrender.
  • Narrator: Tatsuya Nakadai provides narration, recapping events and explaining the history.
  • Off with His Head!: General Mori's aide gets his head lopped clean off with a sword by Hatanaka's sidekick.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Of a particularly insane and destructive sort, as Japanese patriotic fervor leads many to want to continue a war that has long sense been lost, even until all of Japan is wiped out. One pointed scene shows local civilians waving flags and singing a patriotic song as a kamikaze flight takes off, intercut with a scene of Prime Minister Suzuki reading out the Emperor's surrender speech.
  • Prolonged Prologue: The first 21 minutes of the movie run through the Potsdam Declaration, the dropping of the nuclear bombs, the Russian declaration of war. Then at the crucial mid-morning conference on August 14 the Emperor stands to tell the council his decision, the title card comes up, and the main story of August 14-15 plays out from there.
  • Seppuku: Anami commits ritual seppuku in penance for his role in Japan's defeat.
  • Stock Footage: A fair amount of stock footage from Japan's military campaigns in the war, as well as footage of the devastation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • Title Drop:
    • As Hirohito stands to tell the conference his decision, the narrator says "Thus began Japan's longest day."
    • As the film is ending, while the recreation of Hirohito's surrender broadcast plays, the narrator says "Japan's longest day was finally over."