This is a bonkers documentary about one man’s quest to expose the truth about what happened to two Japanese soldiers in his regiment in New Guinea at the end of WWII. I can honestly say I’ve seen few films like it. I also think it’s a bit of a landmark as, though this type of story of an obsessive’s quest for truth is quite common in documentaries now, I’m not sure how common it was in 1987.
Here’s a brief summary: only a few men survived from this regiment, 5 of them appear to have been involved in the possible execution of two fellow soldiers, and a few others may have witnessed it, but the army has claimed they died of disease. Kenzi Okuzaki is going to find out what actually happened.
SPOILERS: The star of the film is, um, something else, but explaining why spoils some of the surprises of the film. So if you want to see it, don’t learn more about it and definitely do not read his Wikipedia page.
This film is sometimes portrayed as one man’s quest to reveal Japanese war crimes. But the thing is, Kenzo Okuzaki is batshit crazy and a complete asshole. You might say “well, Riley, sometimes it takes an asshole to do the hard work to uncover the truth.” To that I would retort that Michael Jordan isn’t the only NBA player to lead his team to the championship. Noted non assholes such as Bill Russell and Steph Curry have also done that. This story certainly should be told, but Okuzaki is not the man to tell it.
Why? Well, it’s one thing for a man to be as self-righteous as Okuzaki is. That in itself is off-putting. But, if he was just self-righteous, with some minor personal flaws (he drinks too much, he smokes non-stop, etc), then his quest would seem more reasonable, more just.
However, Okuzaki is (was) a convicted felon. Worse, he’s a convicted murderer when we first meet him in 1982. (That’s not his only crime, it’s just his worst.) This man is on a quest to expose a military execution (or military lie) that he thinks is a murder, after he himself has committed murder.
To do so, he assaults his interviewees (seriously!), he lies, he lectures for what feels like an eternity, he tells these former soldiers he is better than them. And then, he does something so much worse.
All of this is to uncover the truth about what happened to two soldiers nearly 40 years earlier. Okuzaki believes the ends justify the means but it’s really, really hard to agree with him. (Also, the same argument can be made for why the two dead soldiers didn’t make it back, so…)
Just a crazy film.