Who's Left Behind?
It is 1940 and the Empire of Japan is actively engaged in the Second World War. To young, soft-hearted Kayoko, the war is a distant matter that has little to do with her family or the process of growing up. The war will slowly come to Japan and soon Kayoko and her family will have to face its horror.
There are a number of Japanese anime movies about World War II and many of them aren't particularly good. While you do you have excellent films like Grave of the Fireflies, you have poorly paced stories like Barefoot Gen that do a poor job at really getting the viewer to feel the horror of war despite having graphic depictions of nuclear bombing victims. There are also films like Rail of the Star, though while fairly good in the technical storytelling sense are weakened by their callous disregard for some of the other non-Japanese people who suffered in the same areas.
Who's Left Behind, fortunately, is not one of these weaker films. It takes a serious matter, World War II, and watches it through the eyes of young Kayoko. It removed the pathetic victim element that I have found a bit too often in Japanese treatments of World War II (animated or otherwise). You don't have them of going out of their way to portray Japan as a victim or by offering up Kayoko's family as the one family in Japan who hates the war and curses the emperor as I have seen in other films centered around similar subject matter.
Now this isn't to say that they present the family or the people around them as angry warmongers, just that the film helps capture the idea of war being distant to these people on the hhome front. All they want is for their country to succeed and to their best to be patriotic whether it is by volunteering supplies or manpower. Many of them have very little idea of what is actually going on outside of Japan and seem content to believe what they are told about the war. I find this treatment both realistic and highly effective. By making the people involved three-dimensional instead of one-dimensional victims (or one dimensional aggressors), it helps the film transcend being a mere Japanese film about World War II and instead become a powerful anti-war film in general.
The overall pacing and introduction of the war to the home front was extremely well done in this film. They spend a lot of time letting us get to know the family, their quirks, and see that they are a fairly normal family with their own small concerns. As the war begins to turn against Japan, there is the increase in tension, and the steps the worried family begins to take to ensure the safety of their family members. I should note that I have a slight issue with one of the earlier scenes they used to demonstrate that the war had come to Japan. It wasn't a bad scene necessarily it just involved what I like to call the world's oddest and most hyper-aggressive use of a P-51 Mustang. I imagine many people aren't going to think as deeply as I did on the deployment tactics of the weapon systems seen in the film though.
Production-wise this film was fairly good, though it is a bit older, so it isn't nearly as beautiful as some newer productions. The scenery both in the countryside and the city is well done and detailed helping to bring Japan to life. Though this is a war movie, actual scenes involving the war are actually few and far between, though I thought this helped make them highly effective. There was one scene that involved people looking up at the sky and just seeing it full of American bombers that I found well done and chilling.
The ending of the film was rather interesting and I thought struck a good balance between keeping some hope alive while not minimizing or ignoring the loss of life and family suffered by the characters of the film. Some more jaded viewers might find it a bit overly sentimental, I suppose.
An excellent and moving anti-war film. If you do not like sad films or war films, you are going to want to subtract a star or two. This isn't as soul-flaying as some films in the same genre, but many people you get to know will die. — Jeremy A Beard
Recommended Audience: Despite the inherent violence of a war drama, this film focuses a lot more on the emotional loss of people rather than leaning on graphic depictions of people being wounded in battle or by raids. There are a few scenes were people have been shot, though most of the actual deaths aren't directly seen. Overall, I would say that it is appropriate for older children, provided they have their parents to discuss some of the implications of many of the scenes.
Version(s) Viewed: digital source
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Who's Left Behind? © 1991 Mushi Pro
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