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The Japanese soldiers in Midway

Director Roland Emmerich is no stranger to huge big screen conflicts. In Independence Day and Stargate, people faced off with aliens. In 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow, people faced off with nature and the apocalypse. But for his new film Midway, Roland Emmerich took on the real-life conflict of World War II, where people were fighting other people. Midway therefore works to humanize both sides of the conflict, as Roland Emmerich explained:

I am German, and heard war stories from my dad, but not constantly. We knew that he was not a party member. He told us, look, there were the Nazis, even we didn’t like them. It was a small group of people who felt totally entitled. Always watch out – when you look at history, don’t believe certain things. 20 years ago I saw a documentary about Midway. I realized the Japanese were this rigid culture and for whatever reason they attacked. It was actually Yamamoto designing the whole thing, but they got unlucky because the aircraft carriers were gone. Yamamoto just knew that if these aircraft carriers would survive the Japanese would lose the war.

As a German, whose family were not members of the Nazi party, Roland Emmerich was able to bring a slightly different perspective to his World War II movie. Midway works to humanize both sides of the conflict in World War II because even though wars are between countries they are fought by people and not all of the people in the respective countries support the aims of those in charge.

History is written by the winnersm but Rolan Emmerich wanted a more nuanced, expansive view of things for Midway. Therefore, he sought to humanize both sides of the conflict. So he didn’t want to represent the Japanese people and soldiers as a monolithic entity of evil just as not all Germans were members of the Nazi party. Midway star Ed Skrein has said that he wants the film to honor the men who fought on both sides of the battle.

As Roland Emmerich told Slash Film, long before making Midway,he saw a documentary about the pivotal and decisive 1942 battle and that gave him greater understanding of the history of what happened in the Pacific Theater. This iincludes the Japanese plan, Isoroku Yamamoto, why the Japanese lost, an the importance of the aircraft carriers. He was able to take all of that into the making of Midway.

The director continued:

The Americans were already building two or three more, while the Japanese had problems with getting metal and oil and stuff. Yamamoto knew that in the long run they cannot win, so it was this whole chess game between Nimitz and the Japanese Navy. I thought it was super interesting story to tell. In the middle of all this are the sailors, the pilots, the radio men and all of these people who just do their jobs. There are brave ones, there are not so brave ones, there are daredevils, there are more reserved guys, so it was just this mix of all of these people in one movie.

The Japanese were at a major disadvantage when it came to resource replenishment, making the Battle of Midway critical. Roland Emmerich wanted to put the strategic battle between Japanese Marshal-Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and Admiral Chester W. Minitz onscreen and tell that story.

But beyond that macro story of two commanders moving pieces on the board, Roland Emmerich also wanted to tell the story of the pieces themselves, the men fighting a battle much bigger than themselves. As he said, that encompasses a whole swath of people who are just doing their jobs on all levels to contribute to the war effort. Showing that and showing the different types of people involved humanizes the conflict because you see the normal people whose lives are on the line.

While far from a massive success, especially considering its $100 million budget, Midway still won the Veteran’s Day weekend with $17.5 million at the box office. The film also earned an A CinemaScore, indicating that those who saw Midway really appreciated Roland Emmerich’s approach.

Midway is now playing. Check out our 2019 Release Schedule to see what else is headed to theaters this year.

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