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Design for Death

Design for Death(1948)

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Using newsreel and re-enacted footage, this documentary attempts to describe the historical forces that culminated in the Japanese aggression during World War II. The filmmakers contend that a concentration of power in too few hands can lead to war. Until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, most Americans believed that the Japanese were a mild, polite people, nature-loving, home-loving and nice to their children. After the war, opinion changed, and the Japanese were considered crazy and blood-thirsty. Using dramatic re-enactments, the filmmakers depict Japan 700 years earlier when battles among feudal families, fought by professional soldiers known as samurai, divided the country. If a samurai failed in his duties, he was invited to commit hara-kiri. The samurai collected taxes from the people and killed or bullied those who protested. At the same time, in England, the common people rose up against their tyrant, and the idea of personal freedom spread through Europe. When the idea of personal freedom reached Japan, a six-month rebellion broke out and 37,000 people were killed. To prevent a recurrence, the Japanese government isolated the country. Meanwhile, in the West, the American and French revolutions were fought. In Japan, the emperor was worshipped as the son of heaven. A re-enactment of the arrival of Admiral Matthew Perry's fleet in Japan to establish a trading agreement is used to demonstrate that the new ideas he brought with him threatened the power structure. Then, the filmmakers assert, Shinto was made the state religion and was used to convince the people that they were members of a master race. Using newsreel footage, the film shows the formation of the first national Japanese army and the capture and annexation of Manchuko. Most Americans ignored this war, which seemed very far away. While maintaining the outward image of a peaceful, free country, the Japanese government quietly began to manufacture weapons and build an army. Inside Japan, some people spoke out against the empire, demanding to know why money was being spent on the military while so many lived in poverty. Japanese officials responded by banning dangerous thought. Spies were everywhere. Newsreel footage then depicts the growing nationalistic movement in Japan, which was fueled by the Japanese soldiers' belief that their souls would live on even after their death. Actual battle scenes show the escalation of the war, including rapid attacks on China, French Indo-China, Pearl Harbor, Wake Island, Shanghai, Guam and many other places in the Far East. Japan's surrender after the dropping of the atomic bomb is also depicted, and the filmmakers note that while the Japanese paid a high price during the war, the United States also paid a price in lost lives because it ignored events in Japan, Germany and Italy. The filmmakers make the point that war will only stop when well-educated people all over the world develop strong, representative governments.