Two words that are hardly paired together: veteran kamikaze. While it may seem contradictory for a veteran kamikazes to exist, feature-length documentary Wings of Defeat proves otherwise. Through rare interviews of Japanese veteran kamikaze pilots, the documentary explores the human experience of being a WWII kamikaze pilot. I had the opportunity of to briefly interview Risa Morimoto, producer and director of Wings of Defeat.

JI: How did you come to make Wings of Defeat and what were your reasons for making it?
RM: In Spring 2005, I found out that my uncle whom I had known and adored, trained to be a kamikaze pilot. I was distraught because I didn’t know until recently and also, because I couldn’t believe the man that I respected and loved could have done something so fanatical and crazy. Then I became disappointed in myself for having never questioned these one dimensional stereotypes that seem to still live on today. Thus, I thought it would make a good topic for a documentary to look at the human side of the experience…if I as a Japanese American still believed the propaganda, then there must be thousands of others who did too.

JI: Did you have to receive permission from the Japanese government to make this film?
RM: No, they are not a communist country so they don’t have any censorship control (though they do interject their strong opinions from time to time…we were just lucky that we didn’t get any of that when we premiered in Japan).

JI: How did you find the people in the film? Was it easy or difficult to find people willing to open up about their experiences?
RM: I was lucky enough to get invited to a kamikaze reunion through one of my advisors. It was there that I first met Ena san, one of the main characters and he introduced me to the others. At the reunion, Ena san gave me the opportunity to recruit volunteers by making an announcement at the dinner party afterwards . So, after dinner was served I went to the front of the room, explained the film project and asked if there was anyone who was interested in talking with me to do so afterwards. Not one person volunteered. Looking back on it now, I can see why no one would want to volunteer to talk with someone they didn’t know about something so personal. For two of the four former kamikaze I did end up talking with, this was their first time speaking publicly about their experiences. I think this is true for many veterans - it’s not something that is easy to discuss openly.

JI: What inspired the use of animation in this film to illustrate the most dramatic events in each pilot’s life?
RM: When we listened to the interviews, it was amazing how specific their memory was of this moment. I can’t imagine recalling something that happened over 60 years ago with such specificity. Just having talking heads cut back and forth wasn’t going to do it justice. There were numerous other details that they mentioned that was easier to show rather than tell. Anime, which is inherently a Japanese form of art, was a logical solution. Jeff Castro, the animator, and Joe Wu, art director and I worked closely with one another to develop each of the storyboards.

It also allowed us to engage younger audiences - it is one of the scenes that young people seem to remember most and want to discuss.

JI: Are there any screenings planned for 2009?
RM: We have a bunch of university and community screenings planned for 2009. In February, Indiana University, Franklin and Marshall and UC Boulder. March, we will go to Port Jefferson and screen at the Wang Center, Morikami Museum in Florida, Dartmouth, Middlebury. And in May we will have our PBS broadcast on Independent Lens. I will be in Japan for the month of April on my next film project. My producer Linda Hoaglund and I are splitting duties on which place we go but you can always check the website. If anyone is interested in having Wings of Defeat screen at your school, please let us know.

For more information about this film, please visit the official web site here.

WINGS OF DEFEAT on sale for Ningin readers until January 31, 2009!
Originally $24.95, now $19.95
Ningin readers can use discount code: LAGMTG
Go to the Wings of Defeat online store by clicking here.

Also discounted are the Wings of Defeat Educational Version (25% off) and companion film Wings of Defeat: Another Journey which documents US vets returning to Japan to face former Kamikaze featured in Wings of Defeat. Wings of Defeat: Another Journey is available at a discounted price of $11.95. Remember these discounts expire on Jan 31, 2009!