Westward Desperado: ”How we suffer over a single piece of cloth.”

Year:1960
Directed by Kihachi Okamoto
Produced by Kihachi Okamoto
Written by Shin’ichi Sekizawa, Kihachi Okamoto, and Osamu Hasumoto
Cast: Hideyo Amamoto, Tatsuyoshi Ehara, Akihiko Hirata, Yûzô Kayama and Makoto Satô.

 

A notorious maverick unit tries to locate a lost flag to avoid being court-martialed.

A follow up to Desperado Outpost that isn’t a sequel or a prequel. It actually follows a completely different set of characters though the cast is largely the same. The lead actor from the previous film takes on more of a supporting role here and plays a character called”Sergeant Togawa”. Like its predecessor, it’s a satirical look at the Japanese army and exposes its more irrational aspects. Also, in the manner of its predecessor, it doesn’t demonize their Chinese adversary. The budding relationship the cast has with a chubby Chinese commander puts a smile on your face. That relationship that starts when the two opposing armies have an awkward run-in with each other. Though, it’s a war film, probably even more so than its predecessor. Westward Desperado has the beats of a Western. This time, the Western overtones are more striking. For one, the characters are moving place to place. But more overtly, the characters directly comment that they are in situations akin to a Western. Twice in fact, when Togawa says that his commanding officer ”looks like an Indian chief” or another character says ”This happened in a Western before”. The self-awareness of the Western tropes creates a sense of shrewdness to the tale. The same shrewdness is in the striking morals of Westward Desperado. The whole tale of the film is put the more irrational aspects of the Japanese military in question. Aspects that downplay the importance the significance of the individual. The central task of tracking down the flag is less about honor and more about self-preservation. Even, the supposed disciplined military officer who tags along reveals himself to be only looking for a promotion. The movie doesn’t cast a harsh judgment on desertions. The wandering brothel owner that acts as the mentor figure is himself a deserter. When he kills his former superior says ”It is you, with your poor planning and poor leadership, who should commit suicide.” Or the person safeguarding the flag Lieutenant Kitahara for the others to take. Kitahara tries to commit suicide after he gives the flag back but is told to abandon the army and live the life of a humble farmer to escape from  punishment from the army. The traditional conception of honor in Bushido takes a backseat to the pressing concerns of the individual; true honor arises out of living your life to fullest in service to others. This idea is reflected in Lieutenant Kitahara’s decision to live for the sake of his Chinese lover. The journey to reclaim the flag isn’t a purely an anti-bushido tirade. In contrast with the last film, Westward Desperado is loaded with more slapstick humor. The trappings of an action-comedy and a Western with the war-time setting creates an exhilarating tale. And, likely more exhilarating than its forerunner because its ending isn’t as foreboding and is more optimistic.

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