There’s absolutely no denying the reality of racism in the war between Japan and the United States. While the Japanese military dictatorship was in many respects almost as virulently race obsessed as their Nazi allies, it’s easier for an American viewer to see the fact that the U.S. was guilty of race hatred of its own, starting with the imprisonment of thousands of innocent American citizens on the west coast who happened to be of Japanese ancestry, many of them parents and grandparents of friends of mine. Meanwhile, Italian-Americans and German-Americans were accepted as the loyal citizens of this nation that nearly all of them were.
And so it took decades for Western filmmakers to begin to treat the Japanese side of the war with any complexity. As we continue with a series of film clips inspired by HBO’s “The Pacific,” which premieres Sunday night, we have a brief but haunting and beautifully composed scene from John Boorman’s 1968 two character war film, “Hell in the Pacific.” The film stars Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune as two stranded soldiers who, in a plot that may remind science fiction buffs of the story and 1985 film “Enemy Mine,” are forced to work together in order to survive despite their enemy status.
Also, of course, no Western filmmaker that I know of explored the Japanese side of World War II with more depth or compassion than Clint Eastwood did in his bold, masterful “Letters from Iwo Jima” from 2006. Apparently, it took an icon of American toughness to illustrate the pain of some of the deadliest, most implacable, and bravest enemies this country ever faced.