The One about Kon Ichikawa’s “Alone Across the Pacific”

In 1962, a yachtsman named Kenichi Horie rose to prominence when he illegally sailed across the Pacific Ocean from Nishinomiya, Japan to San Francisco, California.

It was a different time back in 1962 as postwar-Japan had strict rules on its citizens sailing but for three months, but no Japanese has attempted to sail that far but for Horie, it was an obsession, a goal that he had to make happen.  So, Horie braved bad ocean conditions with no passport, not much money and eventually arrived in the United States where he was arrested. But because of the extraordinary feat. which Horie accomplished, he was given a 30-day Visa and awarded a key to the city by the mayor of San Francisco.

Since then, Horie has continued to sale the seas solo in boats that are environmentally friendly, which included a recent 2008 trip in a wave energy-based boat from Hawaii to Japan.

But back in 1962, what Horie accomplished was not only news in America, also in Japan as people were shocked of what he did.  Horie wrote a book titled “Taiheyo Hitori-Bochi” (Alone Across the Pacific) and a year later, the book was adapted into a film by Natto Wada (“Fires on the Plain”, “The Burmese Harp”, “Tokyo Olympiad”) and directed by multi-award winning director Kon Ichikawa (Fires on the Plain”, “The Burmese Harp”, “Otouto”, “Kagi”).  The film marks the first and only collaboration between Ichikawa and cinematographer Yoshihiro Yamazaki  (“A Promise”, “Women Who Do Not Divorce”).

“Alone Across the Pacific” (Taiheyo Hitori-bochi) could have been a clean-cut film and made the character of an ordinary yachtsman traveling the high seas to the United States, and literally making him a hero.

But with Kon Ichikawa films, his characters are never that clean-cut, nor are they shown as perfect individuals. Natto Wada does another fantastic job of fleshing out the script in providing us an interest and entertaining character narrative for the character of the young man. The portrayal of the 23-year-old shows a young man against the current trend of Japan. To be a hardworking person, who goes to college, listens to his family and take on a career or to inherit the family business. But the youth is a rebel and this is what makes “Alone Across the Pacific” an ideal Nikkatsu film.

Whereas many Nikkatsu-related films on young rebelliousness can be seen in many of their films, what makes “Alone Across the Pacific” satisfying is that there is no society to rebel against in the film. The young man’s rebelliousness is against his family and by showing it by pursuing his obsession of traveling across the Pacific Ocean.

The young man feels the isolation of riding 92 days in his yacht, braving dangers and realizing that his life can end anytime. His memories of his family, his dog are all he has and because of the water that enters his ship, he starts to lose any comfort and is left with himself. Talking to himself, remembering moments he had with his family and coming to a full realization of what mattered more to him when he does reach his goal and arrive in America.

“Alone Across the Pacific” is definitely a film that one can find entertaining and fun in contrast to “Fires on the Plain”, “Kokoro” and “The Burmese Harp”. And even when compared to Ichikawa’s later works such as “The Makioka Sisters” and “47 Ronin”, “Alone Across the Pacific” is a film that manages to have creativity due to the tight cinematography and making the viewers feel that isolation and tightness of the area. That there is nothing but that yacht and endless ocean. The cinematography manages to capture that feeling of the young man, being alone, quite well.

But what I felt was important to the film was its flashbacks. These flashbacks give depth to the character and in my take, shows that even through the challenges that this man goes through, how he was before, is how he will be after. For some people, standing in the frontline of death can definitely change ones perspective towards life and one’s habits, but not everyone and in this case, considering the character is based on Kenichi Horie and Horie is still doing this nearly 50-years after he made his first solo trip, we can realize that this is his dream and he’s living it. In many ways, it goes against traditional Japanese and traditional Japanese ways of doing things.

Granted, the film is quite predictable but I still found “Across the Pacific” quite entertaining. It may not be the best film from Kon Ichikawa but it still manages to contain the elements of character building that his films are known for.

If you enjoyed Kon Ichikawa films in the past and want something different and more upbeat, definitely give “Alone Across the Pacific” a chance!