The Great War requires great propaganda; or that was what the Japanese leaders thought during the war events in 1930s. They wanted to use profound moviemakers to create films about Japanese strength, and encourage many Japanese men to join the army and die fighting for their country. The movie Fighting Soldiers, made in 1939 by Fumio Kamei, was meant to be one of such movies. It had to tell the world about the greatness of Japanese army, and about the secrets of its being unstoppable and not defeated. However, instead of propaganda for the war and support of Japan, the film showed the sad reality of war, and thus, was banned by officials. Now, many documentary moviemakers watch Fighting Soldiers as the example of a great documentary, which manages to show the absurdity of war and the truth about it, despite the political pressure and the horrors of contemporary times.
Fighting Soldiers has never managed to be Japanese propaganda; rather, it has always been the parody of war and its propaganda. The movie represents the war as it is, with tired soldiers, endless days and nights, when the fighters no longer care about anything, and lack of enthusiasm and desire to fight. Originally, a pro-war movie, it has ended up as a piece of art opposing wars and military outcomes. The director used the new technique of synchronized sound, which had not been used by the documentary directors before. Thanks to this, viewers can experience the actual sounds of war, when they hear everything, what was taking place on the battlefield among soldiers. The director did not use any narration, but there was a text in-between the words, which was supposed to serve the propagandist goals. However, due to the director’s skillful sound recording, viewers can see a great contradiction between the written words and what they actually here. They realize that the text represents the official doctrine, the director had to use, but the real image presents the war without filters. As a result, audience is not fooled by political attempts and sees the director’s goal; people realize the difference between the official statements, they receive, and the reality of war, masterfully presented by Kamei.
The movie’s contradictions start at the very beginning, when the text tells about enthusiastic soldiers, willing to contribute to the movie’s success. However, the picture provides viewers with absolutely different idea, when it shows tired and devastated soldiers, who are exhausted from fighting in China, and who have lost a sense of reality and hope. For them the movie’s success is the last of their concerns, because they wish they have never been to war. With this beautifully crafted contradiction, the director managed to show an audience the essence of war without any words and fake persuasions. His only tool was the reality, he skillfully portrayed.
The way, in which the director shows the war, is breathtaking, as he is able to capture the essential moments, which define fighting and everything linked to it. Viewers can see some burned villages, many orphans and people, who have lost everything, and the text explains it as the necessity to build a new life with a new order in it. The destruction and sadness represent the true consequences of the war; it is not the new order, but the new tyranny, trying to control more people. When the author portrays a horse collapsing to the ground, dead and alone, Viewers see the metaphor of fighting and death, when a sole soldier is a mere tool for the political leaders.
However, it is important to understand that the director did not make any anti-war scenes on purpose, and his film should not be viewed as a pacifistic movie from the very beginning. The moviemaker did not try to convince people that the war was bad or good; rather, he was trying to show the war as it was, without pretty images and propaganda footage. The reasons, the film is shown as anti-war one, are the text, which follows the scenes, and the contradictions, it carries. As a great director, Kamei was trying to capture the essence of war, while the propaganda leaders were trying to turn the footage into something they could use for manipulating people’s minds. The combination, however, did not work because the footage spoke for itself and only confused the people. They could see that the faces of the army differed from the words written beneath, but they trusted the footage as a documented memory of those times. As a result, it was current, because of the propagandist attempts that failed and contributed to the fact that the movie has become anti-war, because the lies in the text were shown and proved wrong with the powerful footage and strong metaphors.
Fighting Soldiers is a film about people at war, whose everyday life is focused on constant and pointless destructions. The movie shows the war and the many consequences of it including tired soldiers, dead people, homeless children, and general damage. It does not try to make the war look better or worse than it actually is; rather, it documents the sad reality of the days, when the political leaders tried to turn the war into a pretty tool in order to gain more power. The film is so powerful because it simply follows the war without any attempts to change its reality, and it also contradicts to the official doctrines making the audience understand the reality for themselves.