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PBS Home Video presents
Victory in the Pacific (2005)

"In the annals of warfare, the final year of the war in the Pacific stands alone."
- Narrator (David Ogden Stiers)

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: August 31, 2005

Stars: David Ogden Stiers, Barton Bernstein, Jerome Connolly, Conrad Crane, Edward Drea, Yoshio Emoto, Richard B. Frank, Irvin Gehret, Harry George, Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, Yoshiko Hashimoto, Jack Hoag, Haruo Iguchi, Akira Iriye, Donald Miller, Ruri Miyara, Walter Moore, Katsuo Nagata, George Niland, Robert Rodenhouse, Masayuki Shimada, Koyu Shiroma, Georffrey "Al" Turnbill
Director: Austin Hoyt

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (images of warfare)
Run Time: 01h:52m:22s
Release Date: August 30, 2005
UPC: 841887050517
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ A-B+B C+

DVD Review

Despite the lavish attention World War II receives in movies and history classes, few people seem to appreciate the Pacific Theater. The devastating war between the Allies and the fascists in Europe is perhaps more comprehensible than the American conflict with Japan. The more familiar geography in Europe made for straightforward battles, but over in the Pacific, American troops continuously invaded new islands, and that war was as much a clash of cultures as anything else, making it far more complex. Victory in the Pacific helps shed some light on the final year of the war, supplying a comprehensive view of the war that may help Americans better understand what happened in the fateful years of 1944 and '45.

Narrated by David Ogden Stiers, this installment in PBS' American Experience series begins with the American invasion of the Saipan Islands in June of 1944. Mixing interviews of historians and survivors, both American and Japanese, with archival footage, director Austin Hoyt concisely highlights everything leading up to Japan's surrender on September 2, 1945. The Saipan Islands were where American soldiers first came into close contact with Japanese civilians, finding them defiantly ending their lives in mass suicide. Shouting "long live the Emperor," men, women, and children jumped off of cliffs into the rocky waters below. The documentary provides an interview of a man who jumped over one of the cliffs as a young boy, only to be caught by a tree branch. There is something in his matter-of-fact description about the event that speaks volumes about the entire war.

The Japanese firmly believed Americans were beasts who would pillage their society, while Americans were convinced that the Japanese were little more than primates with weapons. The use of kamikaze fighters only fed this notion, while Curtis LeMay's firebombing of Japanese cities affirmed the Japanese beliefs. What is so extraordinary about this program is how it presents both views of these events. Images of Tokyo after LeMay's bombing strategy left metropolitan areas in ruins contain a power that escapes the comments of the men who piloted the planes—one pilots speaks about how the 100,000 deaths challenged his faith, while other interviewees explain that it wasn't until LeMay staged these bombings that we learned about the jet stream. The narration underscores the interviews and informs the audience of the implications of the war. This is not merely a highlight reel, for it explains how events during the US military's "island hopping" fed into the decisions to invade Japan. The whole invasion plan prepared by Gen. George Marshall is discussed and the political motivations are also explored. The same goes for the Japanese, with Emperor Hirohito and his cabinet trying to force the US into negotiations well after they knew they had lost. I was amazed at how severe the Japanese historians were toward the Emperor.

Utilizing B-roll footage and an effective score by Michael Bacon, the documentary lets the events of history provide the drama. When the issue of the atomic bomb enters towards the program's conclusion, it is not used as a polemic. I admire how Austin Hoyt is not making a propaganda film, but rather wants his audience to draw their own conclusions from his powerful and intelligent look at the final year of war in the Pacific. In our current world situation, especially with the clash between Arab and Western cultures, everyone should take a look at Victory in the Pacific.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a smooth, aesthetically pleasing picture. The interviews are well photographed and the DVD presents them well. Archival footage obviously looks older and it would be unfair to criticize the transfer for not cleaning it up, since it seems fairly obvious that it is intended to look this way.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Stereo 2.0 mix is nothing flashy, even when played in Pro Logic there is barely any sound separation or directionality. The surround speakers get a bit of play from the original score, but nothing that calls attention to itself. The most important thing is that the narration and interviews can be easily understood, which is true from start to finish.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:31m:03s

Extra Extras:
  1. Target Tokyo, A Historical Film—the complete 1945 Army Air Corp film, narrated by Ronald Reagan.
  2. The Bomb and the End of the War—historians Edward Drea and Richard Frank discuss America's decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan.
Extras Review: The DVD provides two special features. The first is the Army Air Corps film Target Tokyo (22m:07s). Narrated by Ronald Reagan, this movie is a documentary/propaganda film from 1945 about the B-29 bombers used in LeMay's firebombings. It glosses over all of the complications the planes faced and is devoid of any of the horror that swept across Tokyo. Still, as a piece of wartime propaganda this is interesting to watch. I noticed a couple instances of video interference, though whether this is a flaw in the transfer or the film's current status I cannot say.

The second and far more interesting special feature is The Bomb and the End of the War (13m:10s). Historians Edward Drea and Richard Frank respond to the recent position that the US could have ended the war in Japan without dropping the atomic bomb or invading. They offer many keen insights into the damage that would have ensued from continued blockades to the invasion and the prolonging of the war in general. Listening to these two men, it is difficult to disagree with the decision to drop the bomb—as sad as that is.

There are English closed captions available, though you must access them through your television set. The special features are brief, but worth looking at.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

A thoughtful and well-made documentary, Victory in the Pacific is another success in PBS' American Experience series. This DVD presents the piece nicely and has two interesting supplements. Highly recommended.

 


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