Customer Review

28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars We can win if we can take it., January 30, 2007
This review is from: Destination Tokyo (DVD)
Unless you were around and aware of things in 1943 - I wasn't - watching DESTINATION: TOKYO is going to be a bit like taking a trip to a foreign country. It's a war flick made at the mid-point of America's involvement in World War Two. Like a lot of in-war (1941-1945) Hollywood war movies it takes place in the Pacific theater. America is planning a bombing raid on the Japanese mainland, and they need to land a meteorologist on the outskirts of Tokyo - into the heart of Enemyland, in other words - to take weather readings, gather information on shore installations, etc. The submarine USS Copperfin, commanded by Cary Grant, is ordered to transport the meteorologist to Tokyo and, hopefully, bring him back alive.

Hollywood movies made while the war was raging, and still in doubt, provided information, inspiration, and a more or less accurate reflection of the national spirit. If not complete feel-good movies - the war wasn't going that good for the Allieds in 1943 - they generally reflected a gritty determination to get the job done and, all too often, depicted heroism in defeat. There's a reason these movies are packed with clichéd characters - the fast-talking kid from the big city, the slow-talking kid from the small town in Iowa, or Wisconsin, or Montana, the wise old vet who just wanted to get home to his wife and kids and easy chair. Those were the men who were Over There, the sons and uncles, brothers and fathers of the audience. John Garfield plays the fast-talker in DESTINATION: TOKYO, appropriately named Wolf, who has a swell dish in every port and a long, elaborate, and filmable story about each (plenty of flashback action in this one.) Alan Hale plays `Cookie,' the gruff mess cook who has a soft side he shows when it's most needed. William Prince is the agnostic pharmacy attendant named `Pills' who finds his doubts about the existence of a higher being evaporating when a higher power is most needed. Unlike later war movies, the characters can be abrasive at times, but none are pushed to the margins.

So, if a movie like DESTINATION: TOKYO wants to fill its roster with generally likeable characters and spend a slightly mawkish Christmas with them - the Copperfin sets sail on December 24th, and most of the first act is spent trailing on-board carolers and partaking in a makeshift Christmas party - more power to it. It slows down the action, but it gives the major players a chance to introduce themselves, and it's so sentimentally treated it probably boosted the morale of the stateside audience. The weirdest aspect of this picture is listening to the men discuss the `Japanese character.' It'd take a couple of decades for Americans to become enamored with the Way of the Warrior. As best I can make it out, we were in that war because the 8-year-old Japanese child was dis- and re-assembling machine guns blindfolded while the 8-year-old American child was getting a pair of roller skates on their birthday. If you can wade through the shallow social science and the casual racism in these explanatory scenes there's a message of real value, which can be distilled down to "The enemy isn't inherently bad, but their culture is." Yeah, I know, that kind of talk can lead to bad results, but in 1943 it was progressive (the enemy weren't subhuman animals after all) and oddly optimistic (let's talk about peaceful co-existence with the up-to-now invincible enemy we're destined to beat the stuffing out of.)

Don't get me wrong, though. DESTINATION: TOKYO is a still-exciting action movie with minimal philosophizing - the social science stuff caught my ear because I watch too many of these kind of movies. Cary Grant is now-to-earth and sincere as the ship captain, and the underwater scenes hold up well. Strong recommendation.
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