Alone Across The Pacific (Taiheiyo hitori-botchi) (1963)

Summary: Kon Ichikawa’s docudrama uses a real-life solo yacht journey from Japan to America to stage the shifting interplay between individual and society, East and West, in post-war Japan.

Review: In 1962, nearly a decade after the Allied Occupation of Japan had come to an end, a young misfit named Horie Kenichi set sail in a tiny yacht for San Francisco.

The ensuing three-month solo voyage may ostensibly be the subject of Kon Ichikawa’s docudrama, made just a year after the actual event, but bigger fish are being fried here – namely, the schizophrenic state of a nation caught between the insular cultural conformity of its past, and the Westward-looking individualism of its present. Horie (played by Ishihara Yujiro) may at one point be dubbed a ‘maverick’ by a friend and mentor, but the film, criticising as well as celebrating the rebellious efforts of its hero, comes closer to the ambivalence of Into The Wild (2007) or Man On Wire (2008) than the unbridled triumphalism of Top Gun (1986).

Everything here is double-edged. Caught in a storm, Horie expresses relief that no-one will be able to spot him, while admitting that he really just wants to be rescued. Later, as isolation takes its toll on his sanity, we see him literally conducting animated conversations with himself. His divided personality is captured even in the bi-form soundtrack, with Akatagawa Yasushi providing conventional orchestrations for the calmer sections, and Takemitsu Toru discordantly scoring the darker scenes. Horie’s struggle to survive against terrible odds is offset by flashbacks that reveal both his dogged determination and perverse recklessness in planning the voyage. The scope of his achievement is certainly acknowledged, but so too are the friends and family that he has ignored, disdained and left behind, despite all their help and support.

The result is a sophisticated piece of cinema, both a high-seas adventure (with superb mid-Ocean cinematography), and a psychological study of near pathological solipsism.

© Anton Bitel