Every week, somebody complains about a new film's stereotyping of a "protected" class or collection of people. The NAACP attacked Barbershop for a character's commentary about revered figures in black history, despite the fact that the film was written by, directed by, and starred African-Americans. GLAAD recently smacked on Boat Trip for basing its plot around a homosexual cruise. For years, people of many races have claimed that their ethnic group has received unfair treatment at the hands of Hollywood. Sometimes the claims are valid. Other times, those claims are just a grab for publicity.
But what does this have to do with Japanese animation? Although certain stereotypes have plagued anime for years--noticeably, characters of African descent often are portrayed poorly--the medium is usually seen as a way to connect people of different cultures. Unfortunately, Central Park Media has in the television film Silent Service released a strongly anti-American picture that slanders not only US-Japanese relations but also the character of American society and American military forces. I would be more outraged if this were a better picture, along the lines of Birth of a Nation or Triumph of the Will. However, for a jingoistic propaganda piece to work, it actually has to have at least the ring of truth. Silent Service is so poorly written that one can't take the Japanese nationalism on rabid display at face value. It may be an offensive film, but it's less so because of its politics and more so because it's an ignorantly composed piece of work.
As the show starts, a submarine under the command of cautious tactician Shirow Kaieda implodes at the bottom of the ocean in an apparent accident. The official reports say that all hands are lost, but Captain Hiroshi Fukamachi knows his old friend and rival too well. Fukamachi realizes from sonar recordings that the crew of Kaieda's boat jumped ship on the surface long before the boat met its murky fate. As Fukamachi soon learns, Kaieda's men are now part of a top secret mission. They have been placed in charge of the Sea Bat, a nuclear submarine completely funded by the Japanese but built by America to keep its manufacture confidential. The Sea Bat is also not considered a Japanese vessel; it's made part of the American fleet of vessels due to various treaty agreements. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, the Sea Bat doesn't exist and Kaieda's crew is dead.
However, Kaieda has other plans for his new sub. Not long after leaving dock, he rechristens it the Yamato (Japan's name for itself pre-WWII) and declares that the ship and its crew are a new nation. The Americans are outraged and plan to sink the ship before it escalates the situation into an international catastrophe. The Japanese, meanwhile, want to escort the ship back to their own port so they can at least learn about the nuclear technology they spent so much money building so that they can eventually create their own. As the Yamato goes about sinking the American Seventh Fleet, tensions between Japan and the United States flare as America proves itself an unreliable partner willing to reoccupy Japan, if necessary, in order to deal with this threat. Fukamachi may be the only hope to reign in Kaieda and keep the world from nuclear annihilation.
Although Kaiji Kawaguchi is a respected manga-jin for his work on Eagle, a fictional account of the first potential Japanese-American president, this story based on his manga of the same name is bigoted and patently unfair. I can only hope the film does not truly represent the fullness of the original, since the manga of Silent Service has not had a US release. Each and every American in the program is either clueless or a die-hard militarist (or both). Only the wise and savvy Japanese commanders can even hope to understand and catch Kaieda. Some of the Americans come off directly racist, while others are just simply stupid. What's really telling, however, is that the Japanese characters are themselves racial (if positive) stereotypes--hardworking, industrious, cautious, loyal to country to a fault, calm but resolute in the face of aggression. There are no real people in this show, only personality types to fill. That means it should be offensive not only to American citizens but Japanese ones as well.
However, can somebody be offended at anti-Americanism in a film that is so poorly thought out? Each plot point provides yet another plot hole. How would the Japanese government hide funding for a multi-billion dollar submarine when they have the most limited budget for military deployment? Why would the US allow the Japanese to pay for the ship and staff it, but make it a part of the American fleet? Why would the US have no tracking ability to pinpoint the locations of its own submarines? Why would the US attempt to re-occupy Japan? And how could one submarine destroy the whole of the American fleet in total? The initial premise is ludicrous, but used for better purposes it might be believable. Here, one crazy idea follows another to the point that we can't even begin to submerge our disbelief.
Even in terms of the basics, Silent Service does a bad job. The characters are supposed to be realistic, but they are simply ugly. The animation is at most antiquated. The submariner aspects of the film have already been done. Silent Service steals one sequence directly out of The Hunt For Red October, though it bungles its execution. There is no tension and no suspense, which must exist for a good sub movie. If all that weren't enough, there is no ending. The film does not resolve the major conflicts at all. It's a bogus ending to an already bogus movie.
I'd like to believe that we have come a long way in understanding different races and cultures in the US. The current war in the Gulf makes it clear that the world does not always see us in the same way we see ourselves, and it's good for us to get a global perspective on our handling of Iraq, North Korea, and other rogue nations. However, Silent Service adds nothing to the debate. It is a xenophobic diatribe masquerading as a submarine film. I could potentially recommend it despite the nationalistic stereotyping if it were a better movie...but it's a complete waste of time.
Silent Service -- mild violence, offensive racial stereotyping of multiple groups -- F