Level Five (1997)


(director/writer: Chris Marker; cinematographers: Chris Marker/Yves Angel/Gerard de Battista; editor: Chris Marker; music: Michel Krasna; cast: Catherine Belkhodja (Laura), Kenji Tokitsu, Nagisa Ôshima, Ju’nishi Ushiyama, Shigeaki Kinjo; Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Anatole Dauman/Francoise Widhoff; PAL-DVD format/Optimum; 1997-France-in French, English and Japanese with English subtitles when needed)
“Impactful at getting at little known historical gems throughout.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Noted iconoclastic French documentarian Chris Marker(“Le Joli Mai”/”La Jetee“/”A Grin Without A Cat”) takes a discernible look at therarely discussed Battle of Okinawa tragedy, in 1945, during WWII, that occurred just before the A-bomb was dropped. In this provocative cerebral but at times slow going pic, the always curious Marker asks a fictional French computer programmer named Laura (Catherine Belkhodja), a name given her by her late lover from Otto Preminger’s 1944 movie, Laura, to construct a game (program) of that battle using real information collected on the Internet.

Laura interviews among others a Japanese filmmaker Nagisa Ôshima, telling us that what a country thinks of their enemy is revealed by how they are portrayed on film, as we see film clips from both sides that are filled with jingoistic and racist propaganda. In another Internet discovery, a witness is interviewed and tells of the Japanese mass suicides during the battle. Now a Christian minister, Shigeaki Kinjo, whose family like other families in Okinawa were told by the Japanese authorities the Americans were such monsters that rather than surrender it’s better to take your life and the lives of your loved ones. Kinjo relates with sadness how his family was mislead by the Japanese general in charge of Okinawa, Ju’nishi Ushiyama, to carry out these suicides, as the people were conditioned to hate Americans. The belief was that these shocking deaths would frighten off the Americans. Unfortunately this en masse murder only led to the Americans using the A-bomb, when otherwise they might not have.

Marker also blends into the obtuse doc colorful computer imagery, historical archive footage and a running commentary from the diary kept by Laura (she relates the war to the tragedies of her personal life).

It’s impactful at getting at little known historical gems throughout, such as General Simon BolivarBuckner, Jr., in charge of Operation Iceberg during the Battle of Okinawa, became the only American general to die during the war in battle.

Marker leaves it as a haunting meditation on human nature, on the selectivity of memory, on history as perceived through images, on spiritual despair and on the ability of computers to look at both the past and future.

We are told the Levels from the computer game mark off the point reached by the participant and that “Level one is reserved for Communists, Catholics, anarchists and the rest. Level two is for those with with a modicum of wit and self-awareness. That’s as high as we get – except perhaps in death.” To reach Level five would ironically mean victory at the recreated Battle of Okinawa for the game player, which really means the only escape is dying well (as Marker references Alain Resnais’s enigmatic films such as Hiroshima Mon Amour, to add to the film’s touching base with the world of cinema for its peculiar sense of reality).


REVIEWED ON 12/10/2013 GRADE: B+