Just when I thought I had covered the majority of films set in Japan from the 1940s another load suddenly emerged from the depths of nowhere such as this submarine adventure. Those who have read all of these reviews will no doubt be aware that I’m not really a fan of such old movies but will this one be any different?
‘Destination Tokyo‘ is a black and white movie known as the granddaddy of submarine films. It stars Cary Grant (Captain Cassidy) and John Garfield (Wolf) and would not be the former’s only film set in Japan as he would return to the country over two decades later in ‘Walk, Don’t Run‘ (1966).
Warning: Contains spoilers!
The title itself conjures up images of an epic and eventful journey to Japan, and it is in a sense but sadly this is no modern-day road trip movie as much of it is set below water. I did actually wonder at times if I’d got it all wrong and that this was just about their journey from San Francisco to the Japanese capital. Thankfully (for me and this review feature!) Japan appears on the horizon around the half-way mark with a clear view of the majestic Mount Fuji visible through the periscopic lens.
It’s not based on a true story but is a highly fictionalised film that centres around a historic event known as the Doolittle Raid. It concentrates on a fictional submarine where the mission is to enter Tokyo Bay undetected and place a landing party ashore to obtain weather information vital to the upcoming raid. However, this does not really fit in with reports indicating the raid launched without time for weather briefings due to a certain encounter.
With a duration of 135 minutes it is way too long, and for a war genre film it really is quite lacking in actual action as it slowly plods along with a lot of dialogue-heavy scenes within the claustrophobic setting. I have criticised a fair few films for not fleshing out some characters more but here it takes it to the extreme opposite with way too much time given to the characterisation of just about every person of vague importance on board the boat.
Not surprisingly it’s a terribly dated heroic war story overly packed with clichés and too many characters to focus on. Among others we have the boastful playboy, the wise-cracking cook, the hothead, the fresh-faced apprentice and the no-nonsense captain who just seems too likeable to be convincing in that role or maybe it’s just because I am only really aware of some of his later work as a more comedic charmer in the romance genre.
It has to be said that the special effects are pretty poor as it’s obviously just scale models of submarines in the studio tank at times. Was the budget really so tight back then?! The action is supposedly taking place deep, deep down in the ocean yet it’s possible to see the sunlight reflecting off the water surface just a few inches above the toy models! Also, the aquatic plants weren’t the same scale! Laughable really!
Some might say that this film comes across as government propaganda rather than entertainment. Maybe that’s a little unfair given the timing of its release and the desire to make Americans feel good about the war. Propaganda just does not age well though such as the case where Grant’s character informs his men (and the watching audience!) that all Japanese thrust rifles into their children’s hands as soon as they can walk! Inaccurate and misleading of course but I guess it served its purpose at the time.
Other than nostalgia, a little curiosity and some glimpses of moderate excitement, there’s not really too much going on here to keep the viewer interested. Sure, films made during this era had to do what they could to lift the spirits of the watching public but maybe they took it a bit far here with so much cheeriness and jovial humour on board the submarine. Sadly, I didn’t share their happiness and inevitably my low expectations were not exceeded in any way!
Tokyo Fox Rating 3/10