Hell In the Pacific, Revisited

This is not a metaphor for my writing process…. It’s a film I watched on TV when I was a child. And I hadn’t been able to find it until just two weeks ago, in the library. I didn’t even know what the title was, but after some searching I pinned it down.

I was grandmother-raised. My parents spent long hours at the mushroom farm, and my grandmother took care of me and my three sisters. My next two younger sisters are 5 and 6 years younger than me, so this meant that me and my older sister could basically watch anything we wanted on tv. When the title came up, followed by some writing on the screen, our grandmother would ask, What does that say? My sister and I would look at each other and reply, It says this is a film that anyone can watch. And so, our grandmother would leave us to take care of the younger ones and we would settle into another (often adult) program.

It’s odd what the mind remembers…. I have vivid and precise memories of two scenes from Hell In the Pacific that touched me keenly, and the final scene, that wasn’t in the film at all! What!!! I said. Why do I remember this scene that doesn’t even exist? Maybe it’s from a different movie, my ex husband suggested. Maybe. Memory is imprecise, and often emotive. It tries to make its own kind of sense when something does not seem to fit. I guess I didn’t like the ending, when I was a child (or, they did one of those director’s cut, things, like how there’s twelve million slightly different Blade Runners sneaking around).

I was blown away with my second and adult viewing of this film!!! Has it seen a revival? Do people even remember this film? While I was watching, it so brought back images and plot points from Enemy Mine and the more recent Castaway (w/o the frickin’ PRODUCT PLACEMENT!!! — mind, there was a LIFE magazine in one of the key scenes….). Toshiro Mifune and Marvin Lee are amazing in this! And the most wondrously realistic aspect to the film is that they did not offer subtitles! They kept to the actual parameters of the premise: two military men, one Japanese, one American, trapped on a deserted island in the South Pacific during the Second World War. Unable to communicate with each other with language. It’s a simple plot, but also, I kinda hate to admit it, universal….

I think Clint Eastwood tries to reach this level of shared humanity and pathos, but he is so unable to… as seen in his culturally reductive and ultimately sexist and racist Gran Torino. Sure, he’s trying. But he Fails. Gran Torino pissed me off so much I haven’t been able to check out Iwo Jima. I will, some day.

But anyway– check out Hell in the Pacific! Released in 1968, it’s a progressive and thoughtful exploration on the construction of the idea of “enemy”, and how this can erode. I’m so surprised and pleased at how even-handedly they treated the characters in terms of ideological racialized constructions. It wasn’t the drum-banging pro-American narrative that it could have been, and for that I was grateful. I wonder if this was made near the time the film Catch 22 was made. Yup. Catch 22 was released in 1970. Could be in response to the Vietnam War….

As for rewrite process, it’s progressing. Note: if in a repressed but frantic tizzy about the perceived amount of rewrite being requested, touch base with the editor. It may be that what you imagine and fear is larger than what the editor was actually suggesting…. PHEW!!!

For those who are in the Vancouver area and free on Thursday, I’ll be performing at the Cap College Prosetics Reading series. Please drop by! http://www.capilanou.ca/events.aspx?id=1322&aud=195