Tokyo governor promotes WWII kamikaze film


TOKYO - Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara launched a publicity campaign for a film celebrating the bravery of its wartime "kamikaze" suicide pilots  Friday, as Japan wrangled again with Asian neighbors over its World War II history.

"I Go to Die for You," scripted by Ishihara, a 74-year-old nationalist writer and politician, tells the story of the young men, mostly in their teens and twenties, who were trained to crash explosive-laden aircraft into U.S. warships.

Ishihara, set to stand for a third consecutive term as Tokyo governor next month, posed with the stars of the film at a hotel in the capital, in front of a replica Hayabusa plane of the type used by what were known as the "special attack" forces.

"I want to pass on the fact that those beautiful young people really existed," he told reporters. "I think it will resonate in the modern age."

The launch of the film casting Japan's wartime military as tragic heroes came just as South Korea drew renewed attention to what it says is Japan's failure to atone for atrocities committed by its armed forces before and during the war.

"We hope that Japan will not try to glorify or justify a mistaken past, but instead show sincerity by following its conscience and the international community's generally accepted precedent," South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said Thursday.

Ishihara based his script on interviews with Tome Torihama, who ran a restaurant close to Chiran air base on the southernmost main island of Kyushu, where the young pilots were trained.

The kindly Torihama, played in the film by Keiko Kishi, a household name in Japan, became a mother figure for many of the young trainees.

They entrusted her with secrets and farewell letters for their families. One is shown in the film being beaten up by a comrade for telling Torihama Japan would lose the war.

"This film is not meant to glorify the 'special attack' forces, but neither is it an anti-war movie," Ishihara told guests at a launch party, describing it instead as a study of adolescence under extreme circumstances and a tribute to Torihama.

Actress Kishi, who came close to death as a child during World War II, said she persuaded Ishihara, known for nationalist views and policies such as the compulsory singing of the national anthem in state schools, to alter the tone of the movie.

"I told him not everyone went happily to their death," Kishi said. "He took notes and changed the script quite a bit," she said.

But both star and scriptwriter were anxious to distance Japan's kamikaze pilots from modern-day suicide bombers.

Vice-Admiral Takejiro Onishi announced the desperate strategy of using "kamikaze" pilots to fly their planes into U.S. ships when Japan was on the verge of losing the Philippines to U.S. forces.

The first kamikaze attack took place off the coast of the island of Leyte in the Philippines in 1944 and its success led to the recruitment of more young men for suicide missions.

"One thing I want to make clear is that the suicide attacks by religious fanatics around the world are completely different from the special attack forces," Ishihara told reporters.

"They are random attacks on civilians. The special attacks were clearly acts of war," he said.

More than 2,000 planes were used and 34 U.S. ships were sunk in Japanese suicide attacks in the last few months of the war, according to a Japanese encyclopaedia.