'Caterpillar' a harsh tale of war

CATERPILLARDirector: Koji WakamatsuStars: Shima Onishi, Shinobu TerajimaTime: 1 hour, 25 minutes

CATERPILLAR
Director: Koji Wakamatsu
Stars: Shima Onishi, Shinobu Terajima
Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Liz Braun, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:09 PM ET

This just in: War is still hell.

A tale of war and awakening, Caterpillar is a blistering indictment of Japanese nationalism and chauvinism with a bit of amputee porn thrown in for good measure. Just kidding about that last part.

Koji Wakamatsu's award-winning drama starts with rape and death and ends in madness. This is a grim outing about what war looks like underneath the stirring speeches about country and duty.

Lt. Kurokawa (Shima Onishi) returns from the second Sino-Japanese war a decorated hero. He has lost both arms and both legs and is badly burned, so there's not much left of him besides angry flesh. He is also deaf. Kurokawa is given over to the care of his loving wife Shigeko (Shinobu Terajima), who puts aside her initial shock and repulsion to tend to what's left of her husband.

Told she must care for him because it's her duty to the empire, Shigeko feeds, clothes, bathes and toilets her husband without complaint. His pride and his libido prove to be intact, so he's sexually demanding and a bit of a bully; he manages to convey what he wants with the few sounds he can make.

Shigeko works hard to do the right thing at home and in her village. She and the other women do their war duties, with fire drills and defence exercises, and she has all the usual domestic chores to tend to. Food is scarce. Her husband is always hungry.

As the story progresses, Shigeko slowly wakens to the lies of both empire and wifely duty. Her husband's hideous injuries get a special propaganda spin that leads him to be known far and wide as the War God. In addition to everything else, Shigeko must dress him in his uniform and parade him around for the locals to salute and praise. She eventually rebels against the role she has been given; at the same time, Kurokawa begins to have flashbacks to his own misdeeds during the war. The backdrop to all this anger and anguish is the carnage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the end of the Second World War. (Caterpillar incorporates actual war footage in several sequences.)

Caterpillar is brilliant but tough to look at; Wakamatsu isn't pulling any punches as he delivers his message. It's the Feel-Bad Movie of the Week, really. Caterpillar is in Japanese, with English subtitles.


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