Midnight Eagle (2007)
Directed by Izuru Narushima
Screenplay by Yasuo Hasegawa and Kenzaburo Iida
Adapted From The Novel By Tetsuo Takashima
Starring Takao Osawa, Yuko Takeuchi, Hiroshi Tamaki, Eisaku Yoshida, Yoshihiko Hakamada, Nao Omori, Tatsuya Fuji
When a U.S. Bomber carrying a nuclear bomb crashes shortly after taking off from a military base in Japanese Alps at the northern tip of the country, the Japanese Prime Minister orders two sets of rangers to scale the mountain from different sides, hoping to reach the fallen aircraft as soon as possible, and without any leaks of information. The trip will take at the minimum two and half days.
Meanwhile, an ex-war photographer named Yuji, who was taking pictures of the night sky, captures a faint blip in the sky in one of his photos, unaware that it is the bomber falling out of the sky. He is hired by his long-time friend and recently fired journalist Ochiai to scale the mountain with him to discover just what fell. As the pair begin their accent through the blizzard conditions, it is only a matter of time before their paths cross with the Japanese rangers. And it is only a matter of time before they all cross paths with the enemy agents that are just as quickly making their way toward the bomb, with every intention of setting it off!
Based on the novel by acclaimed author Tetsuo Takashima, this action thriller from director Izuru Narushima is a staunchly anti-war and anti-nuclear weapons film that comes directly from the heart of a nation that knows all too well the horrors of such devastation. While American cinemas and DVD shelves have seen their fair share of films over the past few years dedicated to the perils of war from our own filmmakers, this is one of the first external movies in recent memory to make an international statement. And while films from our own shores definitely take a political slant on the matter to rally the base voters, Midnight Eagle strives to push past party lines in its message about the ravages of war (the opening scene takes place on a bombed out street “somewhere in the Middle East”) and as it makes a case in broad strokes for a call for worldwide nuclear disarming.
Narushima, who undertakes his biggest project here since becoming a director, deftly blends bursts of military action with an astonishing array of quiet moments among almost all the characters as they deal with personal responsibilities and likewise facing less-than-perfect choices of the past. Narushima began his career as a screenwriter, and Midnight Eagle is at its strongest during the dialogue sequences. And though the movie has multiple storylines running simultaneously with characters that are integral to the final outcome, Narushima is able to keep everything moving smoothly and assuredly.
Yuji, played by Takao Osawa (previously seen in several Ryuhei Kitamura action films and multiple independent Japanese dramas), is given the biggest character development and story arc as he finally confronts the pains of what his eyes have seen as a war photographer and finally understands the meaning of being a parent as he does everything in his power to protect his son. The government and even journalism are also put in the “responsibility” spotlight via Prime Minister Watarase and Yuji’s sister-in-law Keiko, who is a magazine reporter. Watarase makes several speeches thoughout the movie regarding the role of politicians and in one particular moment mentions how their key role is to prevent war at any cost (a slight jab perhaps at the Western Hemisphere’s proclivity for military engagement?). Keiko, as a journalist, becomes burdened with the dilemma that often faces reporters as to how much truth to expose to the public so as to not cause utter chaos and panic.
Narushima’s approach to the action sequences though, leaves a lot to be desired. Most of the sequences are over far too quick to ever get the adrenaline going (and in the case of an avalanche, almost cringe-inducing in how fake the effect comes off), and appear in many places early on simply to whittle down the Japanese soldiers who are climbing the mountain down to the main core characters. With both the good guys and bad guys wearing white camouflage, he had an opportunity to really let loose some tense and confusing volleying of gunplay to break up the dialogue and show off the might of Japanese Self-Defense Force. Sadly, they are practically all but immediately wiped out by the enemy. The final action piece at least offers some solid excitement as three Japanese square off against thirty of the enemy, and where most of the gunplay unfolds through a night vision scope if not in complete darkness.
While it never feels like Japan is in any true danger during the entire length of Midnight Eagle, there is a great cloud of sadness that hangs over it. You know for a fact that the bomb will be deactivated in time, even during the final moments as the red timer quickly counts down to zero, which goes against action convention as this happens a full forty-five minutes before the end of the movie. No, what is really at stake here is just how much will be personally sacrificed to make the wrongs right again. And that is what is truly at the heart of the movie — true and selfless sacrifice.
Midnight Eagle has been brought to the U.S. courtesy of Strand Releasing. The movie is currently set to open in New York on November 23, 2007, and in Los Angeles December 7, 2007.
For more information, visit www.midnighteagle.jp/english