On Aug 15, 1945, the Japanese Empire finally laid down its arms after two of its cities were flattened through the use of a new, devastating weapon. 74 years later, countless movies have been made depicting the brutality and madness of war.
This is a list of seven movies of the Second World War that are worth a watch:
1. Sarjan Hassan (1958)
This list of WW2 movies will not be complete if this movie by the legendary P Ramlee is not in it.
The thespian plays Hassan, a man desperate to join the Royal Malay Regiment when the Japanese invade Malaya.
However, his adoptive father is not supportive of his ambition and instead assigns him to care for his orchard.
Hassan eventually joins the regiment and after a climactic fight with the villain, he delivers an iconic and inspiring line, “Even though we are still young and new as a nation, I don’t care. I hope that we can all rise together.”
2. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
A beautiful but haunting and appropriately depressing animated movie, this a product of the renowned Japanese studio, Studio Ghibli.
The movie is an adaptation of the late Akiyuki Nosaka’s short story. No need for spoiler warnings, as the movie begins with a Japanese boy dying of starvation and reuniting with his little sister in the afterlife.
The rest of the movie explains what happened to them in the last months of their very short lives. Have some tissues ready as this movie is the epitome of a tearjerker.
3. Leftenan Adnan (2000)
Yet another WW2 movie from Malaysia, based on the real-life story of war hero Lieutenant Adnan Saidi.
Released as a patriotic movie on Independence Day, it begins with the young Adnan in his home village wishing to enlist in the military.
Against his parents’ wishes, he joins the Malay Regiment and is deployed to defend Singapore from the Japanese invasion.
In the battle of Pasir Panjang, the brave soldier fights on against immeasurable odds, with both gun and bayonet.
While he ultimately falls in battle, his undying courage remains an inspiring story.
4. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
A sequel to Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers released the same year, this movie is told from the perspective of the Japanese soldiers defending Iwo Jima.
There are multiple main characters, the garrison commander played by Ken Watanabe who regularly sends doodle-filled letters to his loved ones, a conscript who just wants to go home and a former Kempeitai officer discharged for his leniency.
Historically, the garrison on the island was nearly annihilated to the last man, with fewer than 1% surviving the battle; the result of the Japanese policy of refusing to surrender, even with honour.
Some movies underplay the extent of Japanese atrocities, while others depict the soldiers as soulless demons from hell.
Letters from Iwo Jima walks the line very carefully, showing that while some soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army were normal decent people, many others were indeed inhumane war criminals.
5. The Flowers of War (2011)
War atrocities leave a heavy impact on a nation’s memory, and the Rape of Nanking remains a sore point in Sino-Japanese relations to this day.
Zhang Yimou’s Flowers of War depicts this horrifying episode in vivid detail from the perspective of an American mortician played by Christian Bale.
Bale is forced to take up the frock of a priest in order to protect a class of schoolgirls and a posse of prostitutes taking shelter in a church.
However, as it becomes clear that the church will not provide sanctuary from the Japanese, a sacrifice has to be made.
In addition to the gripping drama, the battle scenes are also captivating and show the sheer desperation that the out-gunned National Army displayed in the face of a relentless enemy.
6. My Way (2011)
Not to be confused with Frank Sinatra’s song, My Way is a South Korean war movie loosely based on the tale of Yang Kyoungjong, a Korean soldier who apparently served in the armies of three countries.
The story follows a Korean marathon runner and his Japanese rival who turn out to have intertwined fates as they are tossed from one battlefield to another.
The gist of the story comes from the drama caused by the relationship between the two men.
Starting off as enemies, their old childhood friendship is reignited when they are drafted into the Soviet Red Army and fate ensures their journey would be long and hard.
7. The Battleship Island (2017)
During the occupation of Korea, many Koreans were enslaved, with women being forced into sex slavery; a fact that has become a historical grievance today.
The Battleship Island by Ryoo Seung-wan is an action-packed movie revolving around a fictionalised escape attempt by Korean slaves from the coal mines of Hashima island.
The action scenes are nothing short of entertaining, and the fear that some of the main characters will not live to the end of the movie will certainly keep you glued to your seat.