Also with: Yoshiyuki Omori, Togo Shimura, Naomasa Musaka, Kengakussha Akiyama.
A Kamikaze sitcom? That’s the setup as two inept comedians in modern Tokyo find themselves — via an Eddie Cantor-style crackup — in the closing days of World War II, as part of an elite corps of gung-ho suicide pilots. While it’s no effects-laden blockbuster, the odd combination of culture-clash comedy, airplane action and zeitgeist soul-searching touches an unusual nerve and gives pic more off-island appeal than usual.
“Winds of God” began life as a play written by charismatic lead thesp Masayuki Imai, who expected it to fill first-time helmer Yoko Narahashi’s colorful vision. By turns farcical and sentimental, pic follows the misadventures of Makoto (Imai) and his not-so-bright sidekick Kinta (Shota Yamaguchi), who flub their way through a Tokyo talent contest, head out into heavy traffic and, when the bandages come off, find they’ve traded in their Honda scooter for a couple of vintage Zeros, loaded with TNT.
It’s August 1945, and the lads are the spitting image of the most respected fliers in the squadron. Naturally, no one believes those wild stories about a neon-lit future, and their lame routines — filled with references to the unbridled materialism of the 1990s — soon get on everyone’s nerves, including a tough group leader (Tetsuya Bessho) who knows he must send his young charges off to certain death. Eventually, the ceremonial portentousness of the place and time gets to our feeble heroes, and their loyalties to Japan — old and new — are put to an unexpected test.
Although the pic aims for variety of tone, the alternation of nerdy humor with somber drama sometimes proves jarring. Narahashi’s
trick works best, surprisingly, when the two are combined in the same scene, as when Makoto plays Hendrix-style air guitar along with a kamikaze drinking song, or when his “prediction” of an atomic drop on Hiroshima comes true.
Narahashi (who has helmed legit in Canada and the U.S., as well as at home) could have made more of the stylized, artificial staging that sets the tone at pic’s start, but Kiyoshi Nishiura’s lensing keeps things appropiately bold and bright throughout, and aerial sequences, shot in Texas with restored fighter planes, add production luster.
All thesps are memorable. The music, however, veers disconcertingly between inspired exotica and Muzak-like lushness.