Directed by Koji Wakamatsu, Caterpillar takes a clear and hard anti-war stance with its explicit warnings, vivid images of brutality and questioning of just what war means and will result in. Complete with archived documentary film reels that come from both news and propaganda, it tells the story of the effects of war through a husband and wife, where the former has returned from his tour of duty serving in the Emperor's Asia Pacific mission, complete with 3 highly decorated medals, a major tribute printed in the newspaper, but with the price of having lost all limbs, now left with just a torso and a head.
The film poses a few questions very early on about war itself. What good are commendations and medals when one is left limbless and at the mercy of others to feed, clothe, bathe you, and just about every other basic human function requires care given, as part of karmic retribution for having to survive a battle when countless of others get killed under one's hands. It's the ultimate torture for someone who once dish out punishment against helpless civilian victims, now unable to function normally, not even speak to express desires.
How can someone be hailed as a war hero, when being a hero in this sense meant the killing of others, like the twist in the adage that states not to die for your country, but to make the other poor bastard die for his instead. And if put under the context of the Japanese invasion of Asia as the film portrayed, how does rampaging, pillaging, raping and killing bring one honour or glory, especially in the senselessness of war that cannot be justified, what more being hailed as a god by many others, balanced by the ultimate mockery of sorts by being put on a pedestal like a caged animal in a zoo, since Tadashi Kurokawa (Keigo Kasuya) becomes the poster boy for his dedication and sacrifice in the name of the throne.
Tadashi aside, the film also takes on another more important and engrossing perspective through that of Tadashi's wife Shigeko (Shinobu Terajima, who got the Silver Bear for Best Actress at last month's Berlin Film Festival), intially shocked by the image of a husband who's more than a cripple, being maimed both physically and emotionally, and to balance that expectation set by society of the dutiful wife who will stand by her husband no matter the costs, and live the vows of being there for better or for worse. Keigo Kasuya may have the more technically challenging role of expressing himself through his eyes only, but Shinobu Terajima brings forth her character's development superbly, as one initially very reluctant and fearful of other's perception, to one who learns how to capitalize the turning of tables to dish out revenge long overdue, especially when she holds the upper hand in rewarding good behaviour brownie points to a sex-addicted husband (yeah, he can still function below the waist). In many ways, it's a close examination of the live of the Japanese woman during war, and societal pressures put on them at the time.
Like the insect, Tadashi spends much of his life eating, sleeping, and requesting for plenty of sex, that it becomes nothing more than a routine cycle to feel alive, until guilt pours over him when given a chance to reflect, and us as the audience as well, the atrocities committed by troops. The other interesting aspect of the film is how Wakamatsu includes elements of how simple living Japanese folk practise for that eventuality of an air strike and invasion of enemies troops on their soil, with civil defense type drills like bayonet fighting and fire fighting being pretty much the standard lessons learnt by the villagers. Bookend by archive footage and the telling of stark statistics of WWII, Caterpillar will stick to you long after the credits roll, and it certainly doesn't detract from its intended hard messages and fluff into a narrative butterfly.