1971-1980ArthouseAsianJapanKihachi Okamoto

Kihachi Okamoto – Tokkan AKA Battle Cry (1975)


Peter High: Your war films seem to fall into two categories – those large, epic productions you did for Toho like Gekido no Showa-shi Okinawa kesen (The Battle of Okinawa, 1971) and the low-budget, personal ones financed by yourself, like Nikudan (The Human Bullet, 1968) and Tokkan (Batle Cry, 1975).
Okamoto Kihachi: Yes, the ones at Toho were expensive o the time, about 400,000 US-Dollars. The budget for my personally financed films was one tenth of that. Of course, Japanese cinema simply can’t compete with the budgets of American films like The Longest Day. We’re forced to suggest entire battle scenes by showing small parts of the whole. Okinawa kessen is a good example, since the entire Japanese Army had ot be represented by fifteen actors and the American side by another fifteen – so even at Toho I was restricted to a rather puny scale. In Nikudan I worked with only one character and in Tokkan, I had only two. Again I was trying to convey the whole by portraying a mere part. So actually the budget in Japan doesn’t make very much difference after all.
Peter High: Did Toho lay down any rules or guidelines about how you should portray the war?
Okamoto Kihachi: No, there really weren’t any at all. They simply wanted to insure a financial success – or rather, avoid losing money on a flop. That was their sole concern. The company made the big decisions about the kind of film to be made. Once in production, I had a fairly free hand. Of course, as time went on, their decision became a real headache. Kiru (Kill!, 1968) – the samurai film with Mifune – was my last Toho film where I was free to choose the subject myself. After 1968, all my films were dictated totally by the company hierarchy. Both Nikudan and Tokkan were written while I was still a director for Toho. I submitted both these scripts and negotiated with Toho about Nikudan for three years. Needless to say, nothing happened and I need up financing it myself. The same for Tokkan. Financing films on my own was a nightmare, but emotionally liberating.

Peter High: If you had made Japan’s Longest Day by yourself, would it have turned out differently?
Okamoto Kihachi: Actually, the issue goes deeper than that. If I’d been in complete control, my real problem would have been with the theme itself. I’d rather do a film about the opening days of the war than about the final days.
Peter High: But, wouldn’t doing a film about the beginning of the war inevitably put you in the position of implicating someone with war-responsibility?
Okamoto Kihachi: I suppose so. But that’s not necessarily an ideological problem. For example, at the beginning of the war the Emperor couldn’t control the events which led us into conflict. But in the final phase, he did press for a decision to prevent the total extinction of Japan. Without his decisive action, I myself might not be alive today. So, you might say its the tale of how I personally survived the war. Still, this in now way explains how the war began. I believe the roots of the war can be uncovered only by looking all the way back to the period of a hundred years ago. Therefore, I set Tokkan in precisely that period.
(Peter B. High, ” An Interview with Kihachi Okamoto”, in: “Wide Angle”, Vol. 1, No. 4 (1977), pp. 25-26)

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