Aegis (Bokoku no Aegis)

Director: Junji Sakamoto
Production Company: Bandai Visual
Year: 2005
Running time: 127 minutes

Recently, Japan has begun churning out a few big budget films that have strong undertones of nationalism and militarism integrated into the plot. One can see that in this film as well as in two WWII movies – “Lorelai” in which a renegade group of army officers plot to have the United States nuke Tokyo in order to start a New Japan and “Yamato: The Last Battle” which is based on the sinking of that great battleship. The films try to play it both ways to some degree – include a wide strain of nationalism but temper it with its portrayal as potentially being extreme and apocalyptic. Yet one can sense that the sentiments of the filmmakers may well sympathize with these political agendas. This reflects what has been taking place in Japan of late – a flourishing of nationalism in which textbooks are being re-written to portray Japan as a heroic fighter against European imperialism in WWII and the argument to make a break with its allegiance to pacifism and become a nuclear power.

Henry Sanada
A film that secretes nationalism automatically is negatively handicapped by me – I just don’t really like the sentiment or even get it for the most part. Where we are born is just an accident of history so why get excited about it – if my great grandparents hadn’t been freezing their asses off and moved to the United States I might have been brought up loving hockey in Canada – and if their grandparents had decided to stay put I would be scattered about somewhere in Europe. Nationalism is almost as idiotic as organized religion – who’s great idea was it to divide mankind into thousands of different beliefs in which everyone of them thinks they are the only ones reaching salvation. And we kill each other over this nonsense which makes it all the more absurd and tragic. Yes – let’s divide the human race by country then by religion then by race and try not to annihilate each other. It drives me crazy to think how we complicate life and buy into the big lies that we are better because we come from this country, have these religious beliefs and have this skin color – and it’s the same all over the world. Ok – time to get off my high horse and talk about this film – sorry for this needless pomposity but every now and then I have to vent! Some web sites advertise ad nauseum – I very occasionally feel the need to advertise my beliefs – not sure which is worse!
Ryo Katsuji
Putting aside my reservation about the film’s agenda, it is for the most part a tepid version of one of the staples of Hollywood – the Die Hard formula – in which one (or in this case two) brave men have to take on evil terrorists who are intent on doing evil things. The film is based on a novel that runs more than 600 pages and according to this site it not surprisingly contains much more in depth characters and a lot more background. This certainly rings true – it feels as if major portions of the film may have ended up on the floor as relationships are hinted at but never explained and one near the end comes as an out of left field surprise that makes little sense. For what is basically an action/political thriller, the film fails on the most basic level – it generates little suspense and has a bumpy pace – at times it moves along swiftly, at other times it feels very sluggish. If the film had been a rambunctious over the top action thriller I could perhaps have forgiven the politics – but I was given too much time between action scenes to think about it and it stuck like a craw in my throat.
Akira Terao, Kiichi Nakai
Sengoku (the great Hiroyuki Sanada) is the Chief Petty Officer on the destroyer Isokaze and he is curious about the number of special observers that are on the ship. He discovers that the captain has been killed and the second in command, Miyazu (Akira Terao) tells him that the guilty party is one of his own men – Kisaragi (Ryo Katsuji) who is a terrorist with a plan to use a deadly gas that was stolen from the Americans. As soon as this is related an explosion occurs that tears a hole in the hull – planted by Kisaragi – and he has holed himself up and threatens to sink the ship. This being his man, Sengoku of course feels obliged to capture him. He does so but not before Kisaragi tells him that the real terrorists are in fact the observers along with the officers of the ship – and that they plan on gassing Tokyo and that he is an intelligence agent put on board to stop them. Sengoku assumes this is a fabrication and turns Kisaragi over to the authorities and is then ordered to abandon ship along with his men. On the lifeboat though he smells a rat when the officers and observers remain aboard and so he swims back through the hole in the hull.
Sanada, Koichi Sato and Kishibe Ittoku
Once on board he soon realizes that Kisaragi was speaking the truth and now has to save Kisaragi not to mention Tokyo! Though unstated in the film, the book identifies the terrorists/observers as North Koreans. Meanwhile back in Tokyo, the government has received the demands of the terrorists and has decided to blow it up with a heat incendiary device – provided of course by the USA. Interspersed in the film are various nationalistic comments – an essay in fact at one point – on the need for Japan to become a military power again. For action junkies the film will likely fall a bit short – one might expect better things with Sanada in it, but his character is such a decent sort that he prefers talking to shooting and the action parts are not particularly well carried out and mysteriously fizzle from time to time. For example, a female terrorist (Choi Min-Seo) is brought on board and she has that insane killer look about her like Joyce Godenzi in “Eastern Condors” and there is apparently some murky connection between her and Kisaragi in the past, but nothing comes of any of this. Very odd really. The film does have a really solid cast in its favor - besides the ones mentioned above there is also Kiichi Nakai (When the Last Sword is Drawn) as the main terrorist and Koichi Sato and Kishibe Ittoku (the birdman in Survive Style 5+) as two intelligence agents.
Choi Min-seo

My rating for the film: 6.0