WWII: A War Even Filmdom Can Love

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 12, 2005 | Go to article overview

WWII: A War Even Filmdom Can Love


Byline: Scott Galupo, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Were "The Great Raid" a portent of things to come from Miramax Films in the post-Weinstein era, then the suits at Disney would deserve a round of applause for dumping the brothers Bob and Harvey.

"The Great Raid," which opens today in area theaters, is a World War II picture that acts like Vietnam never happened - or at least never infected our view of past and present conflicts - and the doctrine of moral equivalence never made it out of antiwar academia.

Set in the Japanese-run Cabanatuan prisoner-of-war camp in the Philippines, the movie's overarching ethos can be summed up thus: "The Japs fought a filthy war."

The words are columnist Mark Steyn's, who, in writing about the 60th anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, said the sentiment is "now so distasteful that use of it inevitably attracts noisy complaints about offensively racist characterizations."

Mr. Steyn needs to see "The Great Raid" and its traumatic portrayals of sadistic Japanese militarism. American POWs are seen summarily executed (10 in a row, point-blank bullet to the back of the head), beaten and deprived of food and medicine as they're exhausted by hard labor.

"The Great Raid's" depiction of the systematic Japanese torture of American POWs makes Abu Ghraib look like Martha Stewart's painful ankle bracelet.

Such atrocity scenes, dramatically searing as they are, also happen to be realistic: The Japanese treated American POWs worse than did the Nazis. And not just Americans: Witness the Chinese and South Korean howls of indignation when Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine in 2003 to honor the country's war dead.

In one particularly satisfying scene from "The Great Raid" - satisfying in the vicarious, I-would-never-really-hurt-anyone sense - the leader of a band of Filipino guerrillas surveys a pile of dead Japanese soldiers at the end of an intense firefight that resulted in the liberation of 500 American POWs. The smile on his face says, "Job well done. Miller time."

There's no "If it weren't for this war, we'd be drinking Millers together." No "Saving Private Ryan"-esque fatalism about "this godawful mess." There's just: The enemy who must be killed.

But here's the thing. Bob and Harvey Weinstein chased after "The Great Raid" years before they were booted out of Disney's corporate universe. As reported in The Washington Times by my colleague Gary Arnold, Miramax optioned one of the books on which the movie is based - 1994's "The Great Raid on Cabanatuan: Rescuing the Doomed Ghosts of Bataan and Corregidor," by William B. …

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