Some people can’t help but remember Pearl Harbor when they see my face, even though they might not have been born in the 1940s. My mother and father hadn’t even met during World War II. I was relatively sheltered from prejudice growing up in my hometown, but still, I saw and heard anti-Japanese sentiments, particularly in the movies.
Sometimes it was playing on the radio. I remember hearing this while working on one of those Pearl Harbor Day tributes over the years, hearing this hit song.
The exception to this was the 1965 movie “None but the Brave” (勇者のみ). The only film directed by Frank Sinatra (who is also featured) and one of the first Japanese-American co-productions (between Warner Bros. and Toho Studios).
The movie is narrated by the Japanese commanding officer, Lieutenant Kuroki (Tatsuya Mihashi), in English as a translation of his diary. He and a small group of soldiers are stranded on a small island (Solomon archipelago) in the Pacific without any means of contacting their military leaders. They practice combat drills (badly), build a boat in an attempt at re-establishing contact with their base, and they dance and sing. Most of this is carried out Japanese without subtitles.
One day, they witness three airplanes in a battle. An American transport plane is shot down by a Japanese Zero. The Zero is destroyed and destroyes the defending American F4U Corsair, but the surviving men on the transport plane (C-47/R4D), Marines, end up on the same island.
Although outranked by the by-the-book Second Lieutenant Blair (Tommy Sands), Captain Dennis Bourke (Clint Walker) uses a clever bluff to keep command with the help of his friend and sometime, his conscience, pharmacist’s mate (Frank Sinatra). Bourke later sums up the situation as “marooned up to me ears in greenhorns.”
Blair is in a hurry to make it to the action. He eventually gets his wish. When the Marines discover the Japanese on the island, they engage in combat, but eventually see the futility in it. The Japanese have no medical supplies, but the Japanese have control of the fresh water and they also have potatoes and a fisherman, Okuda. Kuroki bargains to have the pharmacist help a young soldier, Hirano (Homare Suguro) with a gangrenous leg. The two sides declare a truce.
Kuroki asks, “Why are we trying to kill each other?”
Bourke replies, “Old tribal custom.”
Despite moments of light humor, this isn’t “Gilligan’s Island.” The Marines have salvaged their radio and eventually fix it. The Japanese again declare war as a US Naval ship approaches. Sinatra was anti-war before it became popular. Kuroki’s narration ends as his journal is passed on to Bourke after he and all of his men die. Only four men survive, all Americans. In a voiceover, Kuroki tells Keiko, his wife, “There is no death where the spirit lives and asks her not to grieve when his friend the captain brings her his journals because the day he died was “just another day.” In a long shot of the island, we see the words “Nobody ever wins” superimposed over it before the credits roll.
Sinatra did not serve during World War II. He was classified as 4-F. He did, with Phil Silvers, entertain troops on overseas USO tours.
Walker did serve in the Merchant Marines.
“None But the Brave” is available to stream on Amazon Video.