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Director Seiji Maruyama
|Ôzora no samurai
(Samurai of the Sky / Zero Pilot)
Ôzora no samurai was released in 1976. In English, known as "Samurai of the Sky" (or Samurai in the Sky) or in foreign releases as "Zero Pilot". In Germany, released as "Sturzflug in die Hölle". I first learned about it while reading Winged Samurai, that mentioned the involvement of Saburo Sakai with this production, loosely based on his famous book of the same name Oozora No Samurai (Samurai in the Sky) and the abridged English version Samurai!
At the start of the film, Saburo Sakai is interviewed at Yasukuni Shrine. During the film, Sakai's life portrayed by actor Hiroshi Fujioka. This movie came out roughly at the same time as Hollywood's Midway. Narration begins the film, covering the first month of the war, and the movements of the Tainan Kokutai in the Philippines campaign, to Bali and then to Rabaul.
Packed with aerial combat, the film uses some outstanding model shots, complete with fire and smoke to convey air combat, coupled with actors and a host of Zero fighters for flying ground taxing and aerial sequences. The film covers the operations of the Zero unit, early successes over P-39s over Port Moresby, and then being on the receiving end of American bombing missions at Lae and Rabaul by American B-26s and P-39s. The movie also depicts the final suicide mission of a Japanese bomber over Port Moresby. These events are all based on historically accurate events, although dramatized. Although airplanes explode with great drama, many portions are accurate, like its depiction of Zero pilots communicating not with radios, but hand signals to each other. Since it is a Japanese production, the attention to details related to uniforms and equipment is meticulous.
Famous Mission To Guadalcanal
The highlight of the film is the depiction of the August 7, 1942 mission by Zeros and Betty bombers to attack the American landing force on Guadalcanal. Accurately depicted is the setup for the battle, showing the Zeros momentous flight - the longest distance flow by fighters, and his actions on the way to the target, eating lunch and having soda spoil his view. Then, interception by F4F Wildcats, and shooting down Southerland's wildcat in a lengthy dogfight, including pulling along side the enemy fighter. Then, his fatal error, mistaking SBD dive bombers for fighters and attacking them from the rear. Wounded in his right eye, he makes his legendary flight back to Rabaul, nursing his wounded Zero and fighting exhaustion and pain. Accurately depicted are the use of his silk scarf to bandage his wounds, and his shattered goggles. Fighting delirious visions and weather, he finally spots Green Island Atoll and nears Rabaul. On the ground, ground crews are amazed at his return, and true to life, he insists on reporting to his commanding officer before passing out from exhaustion.
Difficult to Find, But Worth It
No subtitles were available in the version I watched, and the movie does not seem to currently be available on VHS or DVD in the USA. The film concludes with a retrospective montage of wrecked Zeros over the Pacific. In Germany released as "Sturzflug in die Hölle" (Zero Pilot).
Review by Justin Taylan
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