Destination Tokyo

Year 1943

Cary Grant as Captain Cassidy
John Garfield as  Wolf
Alan Hale   as "Cookie" Wainwright  
Dane Clark as Tin Can
John Forsythe   as Sparks
Director - Delmer Daves
Screenwriters - Delmer Daves
    Albert Maltz
Story -   Steve Fisher

Besides being suspenseful, Destination Tokyo is a great period piece for 1943. You've heard of 1943? It was just over a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) and the United States was fighting a war on two fronts. I mention this because Destination Tokyo is a war movie filmed and released while the war was being waged. The job of this movie was to give Joe and Jane America a glimpse into the confrontations and bolster the morale of those who needed it.

To hear about WWII now, everybody joined together to fight against facism and terrorism. This was not true. There were people, including many politicians, against the war. It was a lot like 9/11 except that we went to war back then. Back then, Japan attacked us and we blamed them. On 9/11, terrorists attacked us and we blamed ourselves. In 1941, Japan didn't want to go to war with us as much as they wanted to cripple us so that they could take over China unobstructed.

From a Japanese point of view, they had good reason. The U.S. was busy keeping Japan down. Today it's about nuclear weapons. Think of how we're making things rough for North Korea and Iran. Back then, it was battleships. Japan did not like the battleship limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty. They felt that they were being snubbed and bullied by the United States and Great Britain so that they would never be anything more than a second rate power. So, they flexed their muscles, so to speak. My point? Victors write the history books and losers are always wrong.

But, maybe this sheds some light on why patriotic movies like Destination Tokyo were needed during the war. There weren't many of them, but the ones released were red, white, and blue and over the top with love for America and hatred for the enemy. If you don't understand this, then this isn't a movie for you. Which is too bad, because it captures the feel of being a submariner. Not too many movies do this convincingly. See the nastiness that is named U-571 for a clinic on how NOT to tell a story of submarines.

This movie is a little bit more than pure hokum. There were military advisers for the film. Like Lt. Comdr. Phillip Compton who was the captain of the submarine Shark around 1939. You can't get any more accurate than that. Part of his job, though, was to make sure that the movie wasn't too detailed. I mean, we were at war and it didn't make sense to give the enemy any help through a movie.

So, torpedos in the movie were of the fire and forget variety, unlike in a real submarine. I've seen documentaries on the torpedo technology back then. All I can say is that rocket science isn't that much more complicated than the calculations made on the old WWII submarines.

Anyway, as you can tell by the names of the characters, there isn't a specific person in the lot. They're all composites of people that you can relate to in some manner. There's the womanizer, who doesn't so much succeed in wooing women as making up stories to entertain his shipmates. There's the family man, the old sagacious mentor, and the quiet worker bee.

There's also the cook, played by Alan Hale for comic relief and the unflappable captain (Grant) that the men follow unquestioningly. He's everyone's surrogate dad and has the patience of Job.

The movie is a series of vignettes as the submarine goes to Tokyo Bay. There's a hair cutting scene that's amusing, a Christmas gift exchange, an unexploded bomb that must be disarmed, an emergency appendectomy performed by a medic, and a cat and mouse game with a Japanese destroyer. None of the episodes is unbelievable and it's likely that they're either based on the experience of Lt. Comdr. Phillip Compton or they're based on something he heard about.

The main plot, putting people ashore on the banks of Tokyo Bay to monitor the weather, is a little farfetched. Why recording weather from shore is better than doing it from the submarine isn't explained, so that's a point off.

The movie can be a little slow while it's focusing on how well the crew members have bonded with each other. Some of the suspenseful scenes, fresh in 1943, have become tired now. But since it's a movie without a planned sequel, you never know for sure if someone will live or die, so that adds some drama.

A number of people don't like the ethnic slurs against the Japanese. It was a war movie and the Japanese were our enemy in the Pacific. "Boiling them in oil," may be a bit over the top, but it's a war drama and Americans were killed, and were continuing to be killed, by the Japanese at the time the movie was released. This movie is a time capsule. Appreciate it for what it was. It's interesting from a educational point of view and, if you're not familiar with World War II war dramas, it's entertaining from a movie going perspective as well. If you're like me and grew up watching these kinds of things as a kid, it's fun to watch but it's not a soul searing experience.

No profanity or nudity. There's a case made for believing in God. There are some, presumably false, claims made against the Japanese regarding their bloodthirsty culture that will offend people. I say, "presumably" because similar claims are in evidence today when one looks at radical Islamic propaganda. Maybe the claims regarding the Japanese in Destination Tokyo were believed at the time of the movie. I don't know.

The chick flick potential, surprisingly, isn't bad because the men are missing their families and Cary Grant appealed to women in general.

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