As US forces sweep across the Pacific towards the end of WWII, the island of Saipan becomes a stronghold for a small but resolute band of Japanese soldiers under the leadership of Captain Oba, aka The Fox. Although vastly outnumbered, they dig in, unaware of (and ultimately refusing to believe) the fate that is befalling their countrymen elsewhere.
Clint Eastwood tackled the idea of telling the same story from two different perspectives in his widely lauded Flags Of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. Battle Of The Pacific tries the same job but within the confines of a single film and in fairness, relatively successfully so. Although the director is credited as Hideyuki Hirayama, he used two entirely separate filming units for the respectively US and Japanese-focussed segments in order to better communicate their different mind-sets.
Initially, this seems to be a strategy doomed to failure. For the first half hour the US soldiers are well-drawn and distinguished, whereas their Japanese counterparts seem thin, indistinct and lightweight. Thankfully, that situation soon changes and sufficient time and attention is given to Oba and his followers to enable us to engage with them and care about what becomes of them. Pacing issues beset the film later on and sequences begin to drag or become repetitive, but we never wholly disengage, having been effectively drawn in earlier.
The acting would be characterised as passable rather than impressive, but no-one entirely lets themselves down. There is a measure of emotional involvement, although we rarely feel truly immersed. The most effective sequences are the early ones of entrenched warfare across the island. Strafing machine-gun fire, grenades and charging infantry all combine to create a suitably chaotic and desperate sense of the horror of warfare. You certainly don’t want to be there and these scenes helpfully elicit sympathy for those who are. It’s not quite the Normandy beach landings from Saving Private Ryan, but it’s not bad at all.
Ultimately, the narrative fizzles out rather than reaching an effective and affecting climax, but that is the lottery with true stories – they don’t always wrap up as conveniently as you would like. Not a bad film, not a great one, but a reasonable way to pass the time if you like this sort of thing. It seems to be going by its slightly cumbersome Japanese title in some places (Taiheiyou no kiseki: Fokkusu to yobareta otoko) but you can get it to buy or rent here from 11th June.