Fri, Nov 13, 2009 - Page 16 News List

FILM REVIEW: Empire of the rising sun

‘Pattenrai’ tells the story of the Japanese engineer whose projects turned an arid wilderness into one of Taiwan’s most important agricultural regions

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER


There is nothing intrinsically reprehensible about getting nostalgic for lost empire, but in these days of post-colonialism, the robust imperialistic sentiments expressed by Pattenrai, a Japanese animation about the building of the Chianan Canal (嘉南大圳) and Wushantou Reservoir (烏山頭水庫) by the Japanese occupation government in the 1920s, seem a little out of sync with the times.

The film has had considerable pre-release publicity, with a screening last week in Tainan attended by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and another earlier this week in Taipei for former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and other political figures. This is part of an effort to have the reservoir and canal recognized as a World Heritage Site, but also serves to highlight the somewhat ambiguous relationship that Taiwan has toward Japan.

Fortunately, Pattenrai need not be viewed exclusively through the prism of nationalist ideology or post-colonial political correctness, and as an inspirational story of a visionary engineer who put the interests of people in general before those of nations, it is certainly affecting and informative.

The hero of the tale is the Japanese engineer Yoichi Hatta, who while stationed in Taiwan conceived the hugely ambitious plan to irrigate the Chianan Plain (嘉南平原), turning it from an arid wilderness into one of the island’s most important agricultural regions. The story is told from the point of view of two children, Chin-yi (進一), the son of a Japanese administrator, and Tianwen

(添文), the son of a local farmer. Tianwen’s father violently opposes the reservoir project and sees his son’s participation in it as useless tampering with the natural order, despite the backbreaking daily work of transporting irrigation water by bullock cart.






Noboru Ishiguro


Tong Chi-wai (湯志偉) as Yoichi Hatta


Mandarin and Taiwanese with Chinese subtitles





Tianwen, initially hostile to Hatta, becomes intrigued by the possibilities of engineering and decides to follow Hatta to become an engineer. Hatta is shown as a man who, in his commitment to his profession, is indifferent to race, fighting shortsighted Japanese bean counters as well as stick-in-the-mud Taiwanese peasants to achieve his goal.

Pattenrai can be seen as a paean to the greatness of science, which in the hands of a man like Hatta transcends the boundaries of nations and works for the benefit of all mankind. This sermon to science is balanced with a bit of emotional drama. There is an explosion that kills both Taiwanese and Japanese personnel, including Chin-yi’s father, and almost derails the project. Pattenrai has no doubts that while the price of success is high, the benefits are undisputed.

As a film to teach children about the power of science and dedicated application to study, Pattenrai is perfectly adequate, nicely mixing its preaching with a story of childhood friendship and of youngsters trying to break out from under the shadow their parents. While simple, the story is tightly structured, and shows the assured hand of director Noboru Ishiguro, who is best known for his work in fantasy anime.

Hatta remained in Taiwan for 28 years developing water conservancy infrastructure, including 10 years working on the Wushantou Reservoir. His contribution and dedication to his profession are undisputed, and that his memory should be celebrated is certainly commendable. That it should be in a Japanese production, however, rather than a Taiwanese one, leaves a slightly odd taste in the mouth.

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