MacArthur's Children

(Setouchi shonen yakyudan)


How did director Shinoda reconstruct the past in this film? What did he see/remember about the days of his youth? How does he blend several plotlines to come up with a coherent narrative but the early occupation years? Can people look back in 1984 and see some kind of innocence and irrepressible energy that is lost by the mid-1980s? Was this a moment when the world was open and replete with possibilities, opportunities?

One of the first things we notice about this film is how all the classic tropes associated with the end of the war and the occupation cascade over us in the opening moments: the Glen Miller Band's music ("In the Mood") heralding the arrival of the US occupying forces, the sound of the emperor's voice, as he announces surrender over the radio, MacArthur's arrival, the USS Missouri signing of the surrender document, the censorship exercises in the schools, etc.--it's all there. Kids like Ryuta and his friend Saburo saying things like:

"Japan lost the war. We don't have a country anymore."

"I can't grow up to be an admiral anymore so I'll have to become a gangster!"


Some of the main characters:

The kids:



Ninjin (Carrot)



Nakai Komako-sensei--The Teacher

Nakai Tetsuo--her brother-in-law played by a young Watanabe Ken in his film debut!

Nakai Masao--her husband, the returned soldier who was presumed dead; plyed by singer and pop star of the day, Hiromi Go.

Hatano Mume--daughter of naval captain waiting to be indicted as class-B war criminal

Capt. Hatano, played exquisitely by actor/director Itami Juzo

Ryuta's Grandfather, the policeman, a gentleman of the "old school"

Barbershop Lady (Tome) and Theater Guy (Shintaro)

Saburo's brother Masaki and his Sister (Girlfriend?) both prospering and dressed in flashy, garish, Osaka clothing


Below is a brief synopsis of the plot:

The title of MacArthur's Children refers to the generation growing up in Japan since the end of World War II. A tiny Japanese island serves as a microcosm for the events in the mainland during the time of VE Day. Young Takaya Yamauchi is a war orphan whose best friend, Yoshikuri Omori, refuses to acknowledge the defeat of the Rising Sun. Another friend, Shiori Sakura, is the [daughter] of a Japanese admiral (played by famed director Itami Juzo) who has "lost face" by exhibiting mercy towards the hated British. Confused by the loss of the only world that they know, and resentful of the government's attempts to impose revisionism on all they've ever learned, the kids in the film plan to vent their wrath on the incoming American occupying forces. Once the Americans have arrived, the children are in for yet another culture shock: far from being the murderous monsters they've been conditioned to expect, the troops intend to honor General Douglas MacArthur's edict that the defeated Japanese be treated with dignity and compassion. MacArthur's Children was written and directed by two of those titular children, Takeshi Tamura (writer) and Masahiro Shinoda (director); the film was adapted from the Japanese best-seller by Yu Aku.
~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide


There seem to be some images and some character types that stand out:

First we open with the Emperor's Radio Address announcing Surrender.

This is followed by clips of MacArthur's arrival, the surrender ceremonies on the Missouri, other GIs landing, scenes of returning, repatriated soldiers.

Of course, the school is a special "site," a kind of touchstone or "home base" throughout the film--note that recurring shot through the doors out into the schoolyard that is repeated numerous times in the film, including the final scene where the is a moment of silence before "In the Mood," kicks in and the credits begion to roll..

It is the site where we see some of the Occupation reforms are enacted:



Equality between the sexes

The importance of a strong moral base that the Sensei (Teacher) provides

A powerful scene occurs when the Teacher, Komako, is in class, presumably the morning after Tetsuo has forced himseself on her, and she is telling the students how they must face the future with courage and morals, She is clearly very emotional and the children sense something is wrong.

Shrines also recur as an image, espcially the Kompira Shrine on the island of Shikoku. There is a traditional festival at the end, too.

We see the GIs land and do their thing at the battery. In a bit of comic relief, the children speculate openly about what they have overheard the elders say: Americans have large penises. We also see how they interact with Japanese culture a little.

We see old-style theater performances updated to incorporate contemporay events and issues.

We see the modern bar and "pan-pan" scene (mizu-shobai). We could recall Dower's description in the early chapters of the kasutori culture, etc.

We also have the "good things" and the "bad things" going on in the film:

Komako-sensei, an anchor, a moral compass, embodies what is good and strong; the future



Nature, the environment


The gangster, hoodlum crowd

Masao and Kompira Shrine

Dafffodil fields, rebuilding Japan

Rebirth, Growth


Drugs, Alcohol, Gambling

Youth, "spirit," Baseball!


Unhealthy Relationships, "Mizu-shobai," the night life, prostitution

Love, both young love and adult love


Selfishness, greed, materialism

Of course, most of all, we see humor and warmth at a time when the world is being turned upside down.


See the Internet Movie Database (IMBd) review at:

And TV Guide Movie Database:

Following its surrender to America, Japan had a number of adjustments to go through. This film shows how its kids coped with just this. Focusing on a fifth grade class in a small fishing village, subjects such as censorship and vengeance are addressed. Yet, the main question is "Can the group of preteens maintain its identity as the U.S.A. 'invasion' attempts to alter its concept of what it means to be Japanese?" A significant subplot involves the fifth grade teacher; believing her husband killed in the war, the woman's brother in-law desires to do more than just court her, which is against the widow's wishes. Seen mostly through the eyes of one of the boys (Takaya Yamauchi), we also watch a touching story unfold that includes the detrimental rebellion of one of the lead's friends and the tragedy of his first love affair with a female peer (Shiori Sakura). Both funny and sad; highly praised. Based on the book by Yu Aku as well as director Masahiro Shinoda's childhood memories.


See an interview with Shinoda and his wife :


A few years ago, at the Portland International Film festival, I saw the film reviewed below. It was, in a way, MacArthur's Children revisisted. Very different, of course, but sharing a carnivalesque, baroque kind of spirit. Come to find out that he also made a film about Ozaki Hotsumi about whom Dower had a lot to say (pp. 192-195) because of the immense popularity of his prison letters to his wife. Incarcertated for his part in the Sorge Spy ring, here is a recent note I found about Shinoda's "trilogy" plus one that he completed on the postwar epoch. I quote from the Yale University website

But starting with MacArthur’s Children, continuing with Childhood Days and Setouchi Moonlight Serenade, and culminating with Spy Sorge, Shinoda has increasingly turned to representing Japan’s wartime and immediate postwar experience.  He has stated that Spy Sorge is the culmination of his ideas on this modern history, and that it will be his last film.

I find this interesting. I have never seen Childhood Days (Shonen jidai) but I saw the obvious links between the two films that have Setouchi (Inland Sea) in their title: Setouchi shonen yakyuu dan and Setouchi Munraito Serenade. Notice also what the writer has to say about Ozaki possibly being some kind of inspiration for the Noge character in No Regrets:

In Spy Sorge, director Shinoda Masahiro takes on one of Japan’s most infamous spy incidents.  During World War II, a spy ring organized by Richard Sorge, a handsome and debonair employee of the German embassy in Tokyo, passed on crucial Japanese government and military secrets to the Soviets, ones that would have profound impact on the outcome of the war.  He was caught and executed in November 1944, but only at a point when he could brazenly declare, “There are no more secrets in Japan left to steal!”  His main Japanese collaborator, Ozaki Hotsumi, became material for movies, in particular Kurosawa Akira’s postwar masterpiece No Regrets for Our Youth (Waga seishun ni kui nashi, 1946).  Ten years in the planning, Spy Sorge wields a multi-national cast featuring Ian Glen and Motoki Masahiro, locations in Berlin and Shangai, as well as expert computer graphics to recreate the historical context and convey the immense scope of the incident. Spy Sorge is Shinoda Masahiro’s epic interpretation of modern international history.

Anyway, here is the review of Setouchi Moonlight Serenade, Shinoda's "sequel" to MacArthur's Children:



No Japanese director has focused more attention on the period immediately after Japan's defeat in the Pacific War than Masahiro Shinoda. The 'MacArthur' years, when the US tried to steer Japan down a path of democracy, saw enormous changes in everything from the country's social cohesion and long-held notions of cultural uniqueness to the crime statistics; this did mark the birth of a 'new' Japan, if not entirely in the way America expected. Shinoda (who was 15 when the war ended) brought an adult eye to his childhood memories of the period in MacArthur's Children and [and in the youthful character,]Takeshi — Childhood Days [Shonen jidai, a 1990 film directed by Shinoda]. Now, in Moonlight Serenade, he offers his most searching analysis yet of those crucible years.

Framed by images of the 1995 Kobe earthquake, which triggers memories in the mind of the writer Keita Onda, the film chronicles a sea-journey from Kobe to Kyushu. The Onda family travels to bury the remains of its eldest son (a war casualty) in the family temple in Miyazaki; the father Kokichi, a stern, tradition-minded cop, sees the journey as a moral imperative, since he was the one who sent his underage son into the army. The cancellation of trains forces them to take an overcrowded ferry, and Kokichi's unbending principles preclude bribing the crew for a cabin. Along the way, Kokichi faces a series of challenges to his uptight view of the world: resistance from his long-suffering wife; rebellion from his second son Koji, who wants to run away; and friendly assistance from a 'criminal' black-marketeer. All of this is seen through the eyes of the 10-year-old Keita, who believes mistakenly that the family is on its way to a group suicide. By centering his film on the softening of an authoritarian, Shinoda provides a warm, humorous and deeply humane key to the formation of modern Japan.

Tony Rayns

(Dir): Masahiro Shinoda
(Scr): Katsuo Naruse
(Cast): Kyozo Nagatsuka, Junji Takada, Shima Iwashita
(Running time): 110 Minutes

Many of you might not recall the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 but to see those fires in the opening moments of this film and then to follow this with a grown man's recollection of his pilgrimage to the family burial spot on the island of Kyushu by ferryboat in the early postwar years--it is very compelling. A truly wonderful film!

Another NYT Review: Review Summary

Continuing the Setouchi trilogy -- which began with 1984's MacArthur's Children -- this film looks at Japan just after World War II. The film opens with documentary footage of the 1995 Hanshin earthquake that flattened Kobe. The devastation reminds an elderly Keita Onda of the ruined landscape of Kobe just after the Allied bombing raids, which he witnessed from his home on nearby Awajishima Island. Cut to 1945, when Keita's father, Kokichi (Kyozo Nagatsuka), receives the ashes of his eldest son who died on the battlefield. A rigid traditionalist, Kokichi decides to follow custom and return the ashes to his son's birthplace in Kyushu. He hires out a car -- a lavish expense that has the neighbors' tongues wagging about a possible mass suicide. Instead, the family -- consisting of the father, the mother Fuji (played by Shinoda's wife, Shima Iwashita), Keita (Hideyuki Kasahara), daughter Hideko (Sayuri Kawachi), and teenaged son Koji (Jun Toba) -- end up on a ferry bound for the south of Japan. Koji and his father are locked in a battle of wills. While dad preaches the value of tradition, Koji is much more interested in all things American. As the film progresses, Koji falls for a beautiful war-orphan named Yukiko (Hinano Yoshikawa). Also featured in this film are side stories about other passengers on the boat, including a sweet-talking black marketer who enlightens Kokichi on the joys of foreign liquor, a drug-addled soldier who falls in love with an impoverished woman about to turn tricks just to eat, and a dapper middle-aged man who jumps from the boat. ~ Jonathan Crow, Rovi