When E-Board (the omnipotent committee that decides what you watch at CJAS) convened last semester to iron out the viewing schedule for this school year, it faced quite a daunting task. Constructing a schedule that has a decent balance of anime that we know is good and anime that we would like to see can be quite problematic. When deciding which anime feature films we would watch this semester, we opted for the latter -- namely something that we hadn't seen. And so the majority ended up voting for Tokyo Crisis, which we watched a few weeks ago, and Silent Service, which will be shown tonight. The summary we heard for SS seemed promising enough: Japan and the U.S. together develop a nuclear submarine, but on its maiden voyage, the captain and crew disobey orders and declare their sovereignty as an independent nation. As a result of this decision, U.S.-Japan relations are strained incredibly, breaking down to the point where both countries are brought to the brink of war. The story takes place in the present, has no sci-fi or fantasy elements, and lacks a lovable and annoyingly cute mascot. These points were enough to convince me that Silent Service would be a nice change of pace from the "usual" anime.
While most of E-Board apparently felt the same way (we voted it in), a new problem arose that was only addressed a week or so ago. We needed an article on Silent Service to print in the newsletter for the night of the showing, but no one had actually seen the film. It was indeed a lucky coincidence that I had opted to rent Silent Service over the summer in my attempt to watch as much needless anime as possible instead of pursuing more "constructive" endeavors, like finding a decent job or ending world hunger. And so, by default, I became the designated article-writer. And, as a result of my procrastinating ways, here I sit at 4:57 AM writing an article that was technically due two days ago.
Where to begin with Silent Service? As I stated, the premise is very intriguing. The film begins with an encounter between a Russian submarine and the Japanese vessel Yamanami. The two submarines accidentally collide, and the Yamanami sinks to crush-depth and implodes. The Russian sub takes minimal damage while Captain Shiro Kaieda and the crew of the Yamanami are presumed dead. But, following the investigation of the incident, Hiroshi Fukamachi, captain of the Japanese submarine Tatsunami, has doubts. Having attended the Academy with Kaieda, Fukamachi finds it difficult to believe that a capable commander like Kaieda would allow an incident this negligent to occur. After conducting a sonar inquiry via the instruments of his own sub, he discovers that the Yamanami was unmanned at the time of implosion. Before he can make this known to anyone, he is arrested by his commanding officer. Fukamachi is then told of the development of the Seabat, a nuclear submarine designed by the U.S. and Japan, and how Kaieda and crew's death was staged in order to transfer them to the covert submarine. Fukamachi is told to keep this state secret to himself no matter the circumstances.
Meanwhile, Kaieda, an exceedingly calm and collected man, conducts final checks on the Seabat to prepare for its first voyage, namely a test session with the American vessel New York. In the midst of the exercise, however, the Seabat fires upon the New York and disappears in the ensuing confusion. When news of this is heard, a great deal of political intrigue follows on both sides. American and Japanese forces are dispatched to capture the Seabat, but Kaieda manages to outmaneuver and outsmart everything sent his way. He also holds a trump card: no one knows whether or not the Seabat is actually armed with nuclear warheads, since the final inspection of the vessel was carried out by Kaieda's crew. The Seabat thus creates a standoff via the threat of a nuclear weapon. In an announcement to the world, Kaieda declares the Seabat to be the independent nation of Yamato, and he states that any ship or submarine within a five-mile radius would be violating the Yamato's territory. Meanwhile, Captain Fukamachi and the Tatsunami arrive at the scene of the stalemate in an attempt to discover the true motivation behind Kaieda's actions.
The situation gets progressively more heated, and eventually Japan and the U.S. come to odds when the former agrees to an alliance with the Yamato. The drama and tension present in the film create a viewing experience reminiscent of movies like Crimson Tide and The Hunt for Red October. While some might find the situation to be absurd initially, the film portrays everything in a believable manner, making the circumstances seem very plausible. As Kaieda says in the film, the threat of just one nuclear weapon brings the world to a standstill, and his actions are in part motivated by his desire to make this evident to everyone. "What if...?" is the question the viewer is left to ponder after the film's questionable conclusion (just see it and you'll know what I mean). On a side note, there is a fairly decent amount of "let's make the Americans look stupid" propaganda floating around in the film, as is clear in the actions of the over-confident American naval commanders and the irrational, self-righteous behavior of the U.S. government. Makes you wonder what our friends on the other side of the Pacific really think of us, doesn't it?
A thoughtful and intelligent film, it is only the very end of Silent Service that left me feeling slightly dissatisfied. Some will find the finish to be appropriate, while others will have hoped for something more. Regardless, I doubt anyone will have qualms with the film as a whole. Best of all, and on a separate note entirely, I see now that it is exactly 7 AM and if I go to sleep immediately, I can still grab about 6 hours of rest without missing lunch. Sounds good to me. Enjoy the show everyone.