A Japanese Filmmaker’s Devastating Window on the Iraq War (Documentary)





At a time when the Iraq war continues to be a defining issue on the American scene, it is ironic that the most powerful and uncompromising documentary on the subject remains almost entirely unknown and unseen in this country. It took Japanese filmmaker Watai Takeharu a year and a half to film more than 123 hours of footage in Iraq, which he managed to edit down to two unforgettable hours. The result is the stunning Little Birds, which plunges the viewer into the middle of the war, in all its sorrow and horror, and never lets up.

The film opens on the streets of Baghdad, just days before the war. Daily life appears ordinary on the surface, but this is belied by an underlying tension as Iraqis express their thoughts on the impending assault.

It is not long before bombs and missiles are raining down on Baghdad, and the violence is all the more shocking for the scenes of normality that preceded it. In contrast to the sanitized images the Western public has been fed, this documentary takes an unflinching view of the war. Homes are destroyed, civilians are torn apart by bombs, and blood is spattered everywhere. A man opens a shed, pointing to the bodies within, and bitterly comments, "So these are the weapons of mass destruction." As flies swarm over the bodies, he asks, "Are they weapons of mass destruction? Is it a biochemical weapon? Why?"

U.S. tanks and vehicles enter Baghdad, and a spunky young woman confronts the soldiers by demanding, "How many children have you killed today?" This woman, who was a member of the Human Shields, tells the soldiers that she was there as a peacemaker. One soldier insists that they are the peacemakers, and in disbelief the woman responds, "You're a peacemaker? When you kill these innocent children? That's a peacemaker? Have you been to the hospitals? Have you actually had a look at the people in the hospitals, dying and dead?"...

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