"Shingun" (The Army Advances, 1930) is an interesting historical document about the time when it was made. In the early-1930's, many countries produced these kinds of half-documentary-dramas about their country's military. In my home country Finland, we had three movies called "Meidän poikamme" (Our sons), that were propaganda for sure, but lacked a political agenda. "Shingun" by director Ushihara Kiyohiko would appear to be a similar film for Japanese audiences.
I watched this silent film without subtitles, and since I don't yet read kanji characters so well, I had little trouble understanding the final third of the film. This movie goes from pleasant to serious in a bit of a head dive. The narrative concerns a young farmer, to whose field an army airplane makes an unplanned landing. It's a beautiful plane. Later, the farmer meets a soldier with a girlfriend, played by Tanaka Kinuyo. It's a beautiful girlfriend. So if the air force has planes and girls, why not enlist? The protagonist does so, despite his mother, who is very worried.
In the middle, there is lots of documentary footage, that is great, if you are interested in planes. However the final third was the weird one for me, since it didn't look as if the characters were training, but instead engaging in an actual war. So the question I was wondering was: who are they fighting with? The equipment is far too modern for this to be WWI, and the Japanese army didn't invade China until many years later. If this had been made seven years later, it would undoubtedly look different. Besides, the war in this film looks like Japan defending itself against an enemy, since no one flew across sea to the continent. So, for maximum enjoyment of a war film, it would be nice to know who is fighting with whom, so that we know who to root for. Especially if characters die in the conflict depicted.
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