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Wings of Defeat


Internationally, Kamikaze pilots remain a potent metaphor for fanaticism. In Japan, they are largely revered for their selfless sacrifice. As U.S. firebombs incinerated Japan’s major cities and the country ran out of weapons and fuel, Japan’s military government refused to accept the reality of its defeat. Instead, they sent thousands of kamikaze pilots to targets nearly impossible to reach. Sixty years later, survivors in their eighties tell us about their training, their mindsets, their experiences in a kamikaze cockpit and what it meant to survive when thousands of their fellow pilots had died.

Running Time: 89 min.
Subject(s): Asian Studies, Conflicts, History, Military, War
Language(s): English, Japanese
Subtitles: English
Producer(s): Risa Morimoto, Linda Hoaglund
Cinematographer: Francisco Aliwalas
Editor(s): Maya Stark
Production Company: Edgewood Pictures


  • WINGS OF DEFEAT is a remarkably fascinating documentary, as well as a major contribution to our understanding of the history of World War II, from a heretofore untold point of view–that of the Kamikaze pilots whose training and contributions to the Japanese cause have long been shrouded in myth. The compelling stories told by the former Kamikaze, along with riveting wartime footage, personal snapshots and original animation, uncover a chapter of history too long buried under nationalistic and racist stereotypes. WINGS OF DEFEAT is eloquent proof of how archival material and oral history can transform our understanding of the past.

    Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University and Executive Producer, African American Lives
    Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
  • WINGS OF DEFEAT is an extraordinary film, revealing the terrible power of nationalist fervor as it seizes young minds, and makes them both victims and accomplices in the crime of modern warfare. The interviews with the Japanese pilots, now elderly, are poignant and totally compelling. This film is instructive and sobering for anyone caught up in what is considered patriotic duty to one’s country.
    Howard Zinn, Author, A People’s History of the United States
    Howard Zinn
  • During the Pacific War and for decades after, the Kamikaze were commonly presented as true believers who embraced death without qualm or question. Wartime Japanese propagandists pumped up this myth and most foreigners still take it at face value. Wings of Defeat succeeds brilliantly in puncturing the myth by going beyond the words of war leaders and propagandists to place viewers face to face with elderly Japanese who as young men were prepared to die as Kamikaze. Hand in hand with a critique of the fanaticism of Japan’s leaders, beginning with the Emperor, this remarkable documentary indicts the madness of war itself.
    - John W. Dower, Pulitzer Prize-winning Author, Embracing Defeat
    John W. Dower
  • By exploring, with heart-breaking precision, the lives of the Kamikaze pilots and the conditions which allowed their sacrifice, WINGS OF DEFEAT not only can be used in classrooms to probe a period in history which is in need of elucidation and discussion, but has the extraordinary educational benefit of allowing students to deal with one of the most burning contemporary issues of our turbulent times: martyrdom and its causes. I hope this important film can receive the support it deserves to reach a wide audience in schools, universities and communities so it can help us all as we confront the issues of young people being marched off to war, cross-cultural misunderstandings, and what happens to a nation enthralled by its own superiority and presumed destiny as a great power.

    -Ariel Dorfman, Author, Playwright, Death and the Maiden, Human Rights Activist
    Ariel Dorfman

Festival Participation

  • Asian American International Film Festival - 2008
    Audience Award
  • San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival - 2008
    Special Jury Award
  • Women Film Critics Circle Awards - 2008
    WFCC Award

Distribution Company

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