Movie Arts magazine, October 1977

Doves and Battleships

Space Battleship Yamato Criticism

Akio Jissoji

[Translator’s note: the author uses the terms “dove” and “pigeon” alternatively to describe the same bird.]

What is the origin of the dove as a symbol of peace? I am uneducated and have no idea where it came from, but I think it is a strange symbol. I asked a friend of mine who studies birds, but he didn’t understand it either. I said, “It’s ridiculous that such a disgusting bird is a symbol of peace,” and he shook his head along with me. When I said I didn’t like this bird, I didn’t mean it in the deepest sense. I said it because I remember my body being soiled by pigeon droppings. And in a western city. Damn it…

For example, there is a photo taken on a street corner in the West of an old man feeding pigeons in the last years of his life. Or a child playing with a pigeon in a Western park. Or photos we often see of countless pigeons surrounding lovers in Western squares. Of course, such scenes often appear in Western films as well, and sometimes in contemporary Japanese commercials, which are sometimes said to have “The feeling of the Rokumeikan era.” However, as far as I remember, all of them originate in the west.

In general, such scenes incorporating pigeons are said to be lovely and peaceful, but what kind of scene is it? I think that this symbolism was introduced after World War II, and has been ingrained in our culture. It is hard to believe that these symbols are the result of our original desires and wishes. Since the opening of Japanese TV after the war, I wonder if the use of a dove in the callsign video at the end of a broadcast is what made the dove so popular.

In my memory, pigeons were first known as carrier pigeons that flew over the battlefield. This is because I read a story about a brave pigeon in Shonen Club or somewhere. Memories associated with places are closely related to the authority of castles, shrines, great temples, and palaces. Also, the dove cane is literally a walking stick for the elderly with a dove-shaped carving at the tip. Well, in terms of helping an old man walk peacefully, this might be the closest thing to peace.

However, according to the encyclopedia, “The dove, despite its bad diet, does not choke on its food or drink.” From that point of view, it seems the shape engraved on a cane for the elderly does not come from the nature of the dove itself. There is also the dove whistle, which is an everyday symbol of peace. It is a clay-baked object that produces a sound similar to the cooing of an unreliable dove.

This, too, may have little to do with peace. I have not checked the source of the reference, so I may be wrong, but I think it is derived from the custom of hunters. I guessed it from an analogy in a haiku by Ikeyu Kotomizu: “A man who blows a dove, which is not suitable for a Buddhist monk.”

I have taken many detours, but in short, I wanted to say that it is strange that the dove has become a symbol of peace and love.

So, back to my friend, the ornithologist. After much head-shaking with me, he explained that pigeons are adaptable to their environment, omnivorous, etc. He added that brain-damaging diseases are transmitted by the pigeon’s fecal matter.

“In short,” he told me, “pigeons are ravenous pigs.” Then, with a laugh, he added, “Maybe it’s because Picasso’s painting of a dove was adopted as a symbol at the peace conference. I guess because magicians use white doves on stage.”

I had no idea why magic was associated with the symbol of peace, and in the end, the discussion of the symbolism was lost in the shuffle. In any case, I think the symbols that were introduced into our country came after the [American] Occupation.

However, some pigeons have become obsolete. In the old days, photographers used to say, “Let the pigeons fly,” and then burn the magnesium. When I was a child, I faced the camera thinking that pigeons would really fly out. But I was constantly betrayed, and when I realized it was just a photographic trick I came to hate the phantom dove. This is a memory that has sunk deep into the recesses of my mind. Because of these bad memories, I have a hard time trusting pigeons. Perhaps it is because of these bad memories that pigeons are somehow untrustworthy and symbolic of deception.

However, for expediency these days, photographers would not use pigeons. Japanese children and pigeons don’t get very close on a daily basis. Unlike the children of the past, they are smart enough to know that they will be ridiculed if they believe, “Let the pigeons fly!” Instead of the phantom pigeon, other things became entrenched in the Japanese lifestyle after the occupation. The words “Hi, Cheese!” are often heard in Japanese people’s daily lives when taking snapshots.

As a side note, in the “Tora-san” series, I remember that when Chishu Kasa took a commemorative photo, he said “butter” without even smiling. This one word seemed to me to be a bitterly ironic comment on the postwar democracy. Well, both the obsolete pigeon and the symbolic pigeon must be something of a joke. In my opinion, a bird of prey, such as the “worm-owl,” is a much more appropriate symbol of peace. First, if they sleep in the daytime, they would be a perfect symbol. I wonder if it this hasn’t happen because they are associated with the “Worm Party.”

Let’s think a little more seriously and consider the arrival of spring and the tsubame (swallow). Before the war, the Tsubame was a symbol of peace for children, and the name of the most admired super-express train in Japan. Even for me, who grew up on the continent, the name Tsubame smelled of dreams.

After the war, the express service was restored in 1949. It was named Heiwa, but was changed back to Tsubame the following year. The swallow, which could not fly in the tense situation of the war, was a symbol of peace for the post-war generation. However, in May of 1950, the Hato express train was born, and my longing for the express train has become a blur. Here, too, Dove strangely appeared, among other train names, as a messenger of peace. “Pigeon” would be more appropriate in this era of overflowing express trains.

I have been thinking about pigeons in various ways, but I have also been thinking a lot about the animal rights movement and the whaling controversy. There is a gap between animals and us, and I think it is better not to use them as strange symbols. Symbolism and brutality are two sides of the same coin. For me, the Western proviso is not so easy to learn.

If I denigrate the pigeon too much, I might become a common enemy of all mankind. But the symbolism of the dove may be my own personal prejudice. I can’t help but think of it as the tranquility and peace of the West. It is not a symbol of the Third World or the East, but a CIA stooge with a bloody, adaptable edge. So, inevitably, I cannot trust that there is a common crisis for all mankind and that there is a symbol to avert that crisis.

A drama of the imaginary end of time, and whether or not humans will be able to escape from it, is not at all plausible any more. I think it is a completely untenable picture today. I have my doubts about this kind of scheme being solved by wisdom or the will to eliminate difficulties. Because, as long as it is lumped together with an abstract notion of “all mankind,” it is impossible to find any solution.

In addition, the reason this kind of scheme is so frustrating is the optimism that human civilization will avoid crises, and the belief that we will be able to solve a problem in a way that a crisis won’t affect us. This is based on a misconception that we have averted crises several times in the past.

Well, I will not speak of the future. But did human beings in the past use such wisdom to avert crises for the entire human race? Such a thing has never happened. All I can see is a pigeon-history of continuous plunder, deprivation, extermination, and colonial rule. In particular, history since the Age of Discovery has been about the extermination of civilization.

Therefore, when a crisis situation of the end of time appears, wisdom will surely be wiped away without a trace, and a new pigeon of plunder and extermination will fly. It is unlikely that a new symbol for all mankind will emerge. The crushing of minorities will be the first step, followed by the struggle of mankind. Then the prestige of the great powers will surely come into play.

We were happy to attend the Rambouillet conference and drool over the partnerships. If symbols will appear, it will be after the death of all mankind. The devil will have his due.

To me, the recently released Space Battleship Yamato looked like a dove. A terribly empty symbol. I heard that the movie was a hit, and the generation that can comfortably smell the stench of Coca Cola would not even burp. But to a middle-aged man like me, it looked like the Japanese government dancing at a peace conference. It looked like a happy dream of continuing to believe in the Japan/U.S. Security Treaty.

I can only say that those who believe in such things as settled agreements that will be honored are doves. A pigeon in that sense. As former President Ford grimly stated, “In an emergency to protect the lives and property of the American people,” settled agreements will be wiped out. Wisdom and partnership would go with it.

There is no symbolic remedy for a crisis of all humanity. Even if the Earth is contaminated by radiation and all life forms are threatened with extinction, there is no such thing as a “crisis of all humanity.” The problem would be a crisis of the West and the Security Treaty, or a crisis of the White Race, or a crisis of the great powers. In other words, only when the true nature of the crisis could be limited in such a way, could the dove, the symbol of peace, be a true symbol.

So, to me, Space Battleship Yamato looks like a pathetic Self Defense Force (SDF) that is responsible for the defense burden in accordance with the Security Treaty. Internationalism that insists on clauses against hegemony raises eyebrows. In the spirit of the exception to the free navigation zone in the Tsugaru Strait, the northern territories will not come back anytime soon.

Well, Space Battleship Yamato did not even tickle the nostalgia of a middle-aged man like me. The remodeling was based on partnerships. It may have been impeccably done in accordance with the Security Treaty. The film is about the remodeling of Yamato, which is the main point. I am not sure what to make of it, but it was a bit of a mess. Even for me, it had complicated repercussions.

If a ship being sent to retrieve a radioactive removal device to prevent human extinction had a name like Mississippi or Arizona, I would have passed by the poster with a disinterested glance and gone to Korakuen or Jingu Shrine without paying any attention to it. For the time being, these symbols of nationalism would have been enchanting.

It may be a digression, but you should be well aware of a certain aspect of Americans who refuse to acknowledge the new record of No. 756.

Before I saw Space Battleship Yamato, my life was pretty peaceful and I was not suspicious of pigeons. I wore a T-shirt, put up memos with scotch tape, blew my nose with kleenex, walked around town with a paper bag in my hand, ate hot dogs at a stand in Korakuen, stopped by a late-night supermarket at night, watched ads featuring foreigners on TV, and wiped my poop with Scott tissue. Why am I telling you this? I can’t help it. It was a bad combination with Space Battleship Yamato.

I didn’t want Yamato to be resurrected like that. I wanted it to stay sunk forever. I had not expected to see the symbol I had buried in such a way. Moreover, it was like something filled with a terribly self-indulgent smell.

It was not that Yamato had risen in my heart as a symbol during the war. Don’t worry, the gossip went, there are huge warships. I’m not sure if I heard adults spreading rumors about an unsinkable ship. Of course, it was only after the war that I learned of the existence of such large ships as Yamato, Musashi, and Shinano.

However, in 1943, the Baikaru Maru or the Uraru Maru or whatever she was called, was on the way back to Japan from Qingdao, when it passed through the Bungo Channel and entered the Seto Inland Sea. I couldn’t see out the window. I remember that we were confined in a state of blindness until we arrived in Kobe. At that time, the adults told me, “It’s because of the secret warship.”

In addition to this, long after the war, I was told by an old navy officer, “I glimpsed Shinano‘s flight deck in Yokosuka, and it looked like a playground.” It was an impressive story.

After that, I was curious to see the model kits of Yamato in various scales on display in a department store. At that stage, I could laugh at it, just like you could laugh at the recent supercar boom. But when it became a symbol to save all mankind from a crisis, even a sleeping child would wake up. I did not want it to be revived as a symbol.

Yamato was launched at 2:23 p.m. on April 7, 1945, and it sank two hundred leagues north of Tokunoshima. The written records say the ship sank in the East China Sea at a depth of 430 meters. There was no trace left of Yamato in the sky or the sea.

I read Captain J. Stetson’s words in Battleship Yamato written by Tanuki Kojima. I wanted time to pass without any traces of it. It was a blank time suitable for a middle-aged man who has lost sight of symbolism. Now, my feelings have been shattered into a thousand pieces by watching a single movie. I began to reject the pigeons that my blank time had accomodated, and I wanted to hinder the flight of Space Battleship Yamato.

I want to ask this Yamato, with its name written in katakana, to fight a different battle. Do not believe in love as a common theme of all mankind. That love, for example, is the love that killed Isoka. It is the theme of teachers who have slaughtered civilization. We must not misjudge a hypothetical enemy.

If the Space Battleship Yamato were to fight for something, I want it to be a symbol of the danger to people of color. I wanted it to remain sunk because it is my nightmare. But the ghost has wandered free, so it can’t be helped. If I had to replay it as a nightmare in my imagination, I would have used a roaring Wagnerian opera as a backdrop. As a symbol of the useless big-ship, big-gun policy, it would be a symbol of the broken and abandoned agreement of Japan, German, and Italy.

We must challenge the nightmare in the form of Heisokel’s Zweigelt Concerto, the Dornier 335, Junkers 287, Messerschmitt 323, and so on. If we do so, it will be the very nightmare of a righteous war between all white and colored races.

From now on, when I see a pigeon, I will give it a wide berth. I will not feed them. If I live a little longer and need a cane to walk, I will carve a raven’s shape into it. It is not a good idea to be friendly with pigeons.

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