|LEVEL FIVE (director/writer: Chris Marker; cinematographers: Chris Marker/Yves Angel/Gerard de Battista; editor: Chris Marker; music: Michel Krasna; cast: Catherine Belkhodja (Laura), Kenji Tokitsu, Nagisa Ôshima, Ju'nishi Ushiyama, Shigeaki Kinjo; Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Anatole Dauman/Francoise Widhoff; PAL-DVD format/Optimum; 1997-France-in French, English and Japanese with English subtitles when needed)|
|"Impactful at getting at little
known historical gems throughout."
by Dennis Schwartz
iconoclastic French documentarian Chris Marker ("Le
Joli Mai"/"La Jetee"/"A Grin Without A
Cat") takes a discernible look at the rarely
discussed Battle of Okinawa tragedy, in 1945, during
WWII, that occurred just before the
A-bomb was dropped. In this provocative cerebral but
at times slow going pic, the always curious Marker
asks a fictional French computer programmer
named Laura (Catherine Belkhodja), a name given
her by her late lover from Otto Preminger's 1944
movie, Laura, to construct a
game (program) of that battle using real information
collected on the Internet.
interviews among others a Japanese filmmaker Nagisa Ôshima,
telling us that what a country thinks of their
enemy is revealed by how they are portrayed on
film, as we see film clips from
both sides that are filled with jingoistic and racist
propaganda. In another Internet discovery,
a witness is interviewed and tells of the Japanese
mass suicides during the battle. Now a Christian
minister, Shigeaki Kinjo, whose family like
other families in Okinawa were told by the Japanese
authorities the Americans were such monsters that
rather than surrender it's better to take your life
and the lives of your loved ones. Kinjo relates with
sadness how his family was mislead by the Japanese
general in charge of Okinawa, Ju'nishi
Ushiyama, to carry out these suicides, as
the people were conditioned to hate
belief was that these shocking deaths would frighten
off the Americans. Unfortunately this en masse
murder only led to the Americans using the A-bomb,
when otherwise they might not have.
also blends into the obtuse doc colorful computer
imagery, historical archive footage and a running
commentary from the diary kept by Laura (she relates
the war to the tragedies of her personal life).
impactful at getting at little known historical gems
throughout, such as General Simon
Bolivar Buckner, Jr., in charge of
Operation Iceberg during the Battle of Okinawa, became
the only American general to die during the war in
Marker leaves it as a haunting meditation on human nature, on the selectivity of memory, on history as perceived through images, on spiritual despair and on the ability of computers to look at both the past and future.
We are told the Levels from the computer game mark off the point reached by the participant and that "Level one is reserved for Communists, Catholics, anarchists and the rest. Level two is for those with with a modicum of wit and self-awareness. That's as high as we get - except perhaps in death." To reach Level five would ironically mean victory at the recreated Battle of Okinawa for the game player, which really means the only escape is dying well (as Marker references Alain Resnais's enigmatic films such as Hiroshima Mon Amour, to add to the film's touching base with the world of cinema for its peculiar sense of reality).
REVIEWED ON 12/10/2013 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ