This movie from Japan is another anti-war film that didn’t particularly add much to the conversation. The time frame is the onset of the second Sino-Japanese war in 1940 through the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which ended the conflict for Japan. The story is told mostly through the private lives of a married Japanese couple when the husband is returned home a highly decorated war-hero, with his medals and his uniform, but without his arms or legs. Hence the title of the film, Caterpillar.
There is bitterness on both sides, the husband and wife. Her husband cannot talk, so communication is difficult, but she can understand the basics: his need to eat, his need to pee, his need for sex. She attends to him in all these things, but grows increasingly resentful and frustrated. There is no appreciation, she’s just there to serve him. All he seems to want from here are for those basic needs to be met. It appears that he isn’t all that different now (except for his missing limbs) than he was before the war. We’re given to understand that he was not very kind to her back then, beating her because she could not bear him any children. The film makes clear that his was a brutal personality, a war-rapist.
It’s brutal as a lot of most anti-war films are. It has some somewhat lurid sex scenes between this damaged couple that are repeated over and over (perhaps unnecessarily). But the main focus, and the films main contribution is a steady and unflinching anti-nationalism. Throughout the film, the camera directs its gaze to the Emperor and Empress, portraits on the wall of this patriotic couple’s home. His homecoming is treated as a community event, he’s hailed as a war-hero, or in the Japanese pantheon, a war-God. But when the war-God is out of the limelight, reality sets in. There is only a paraplegic and none too humane husband and the wife who has to satisfy his every need. There is no glory in these things. There is only duty. Duty that is not ennobling. Duty that is reminiscent of the blind duty to serve country without question.