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Silence Has No Wings (1966)


“Silence Has No Wings“ (the original Japanese title: Tobenai Chinmoku) is a 1966 Japanese drama film directed by Kazuo Kuroki.

It is the feature debut and first drama film by Kuroki, who had belonged to Iwanami Productions (Iwanami Eiga) from 1954 to 1962, and directed PR films and documentary films in the late 1950s and the early 1960s.

Set in Japan in the mid-1960s when the scars of World War II were still glaringly obvious, it depicts a variety of scenes and episodes in omnibus form, following a butterfly caterpillar moving up the Japanese archipelago from Nagasaki to Hokkaido, like a road movie.

Screenplay by Yasuo Matsukawa, Hisaya Iwasa and Kazuo Kuroki.

Cinematography by Tatsuo Suzuki.

Music by Teizo Matsumura.

Produced by Nippon Eiga Shinsha.

Distributed by Toho and ATG (Art Theatre Guild).

Black & white. Standard size. 100 minutes.

Plot Outline

A boy catches a Papilio memnon in Hokkaido, but it is a butterfly that should be found only at the south end in all of Japan.

The film depicts scenes and episodes at various locations in Japan, following a Papilio memnon caterpillar that is transported from Nagasaki through Hagi (Yamaguchi Prefecture), Hiroshima, Kyoto, Osaka, Hong Kong, Yokohama and Tokyo to Hokkaido.

In Hagi, a man has a sexual liaison with a woman of an old household.

In Hiroshima, a girl meets her former lover again. 

In Kyoto, a middle-aged man, who is a retired veteran, tries to make a pass at a girl.

In Osaka, an office worker spends the night with a woman he encountered at a bar.

In Yokohama and Tokyo, the caterpillar is dealt with as a state secret, and a bloody competition over the caterpillar unfolds among nations.

In Hokkaido, the boy meets a mystery woman (Mariko Kaga), who is a personification of Papilio memnon.


“Silence Has No Wings“ is a political and avant-garde film that depicts scars of war in Japan at that time and fears of Japan’s remilitarization as themes through experimental techniques influenced by French New Wave, such as Alain Resnais’ “Hiroshima, mon amour“ (1959) and Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless“ (1960).

The title “Silence Has No Wings“ was taken from a line of a poem by Spanish poet Federico García Lorca.

The film incorporates the elements of drama film, documentary, and musical.

In the scene of Hiroshima, the drama part was shot on location with real events, such as a demonstration march of the ban-the-bomb movement and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony.

The scene in which a tank corps is driving down the street in Tokyo was shot on location on Self-Defense Forces Memorial Day.

There are two scenes in the musical style in which the theme song “Hitoribocchi no Chōchō (A Lonely Butterfly)“ (composed by Naozumi Yamamoto) is sung.

In the film, Mariko Kaga, who had starred in “Pale Flower / Kawaita Hana“ (1964) directed by Masahiro Shinoda and “Only on Mondays / Getsuyōbi no Yuka“ (1964) directed by Kō Nakahira, played multiple roles, including the personification of Papilio memnon, the Hiroshima girl, and the Kyoto girl.

Kaga’s costumes were designed by fashion designer Yoko Nakabayashi.

In this film, Kaga had a role similar to Anna Karina in Godard’s films.

Though it is an abstruse film without a clear storyline, Kaga’s attractive presence made it a work that can be watched as a commercial film.

The film was made by using such shooting techniques as location shooting with a handheld camera, tracking shot, aerial shot, and extreme close-ups.

The monochrome imagery shot by Tatsuo Suzuki is stylish and beautiful.

Though this film was scheduled to be released in 1965, Toho shelved it on the grounds that it was too avant-garde. After that, the film was released by ATG in Japan in 1966.

“Silence Has No Wings“ is a film that clearly reflects the minds of Japanese leftists at that time, i.e., growing fears of Japan’s returning to a military state against the backdrop of their defeat in the 1960 Anpo protests against the United States–Japan Security Treaty.

The butterfly in the film seems to be a metaphor for something, but what it means is ambiguous. How to interpret it is up to the viewer.

The butterfly may be interpreted as the symbol of anti-war pacifism, and the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly may represent the ideological shift in Japan from pre-war to post-war, i.e., from nationalism based on the Emperor System to democracy.

In any case, the scenes in which the boy kills the butterfly after denying its existence are profound in meaning.

In Japan, Colortec released the film on DVD in 2002 (distributed by Tec Communications).

In 2020, British Film Institute (BFI) selected “Silence Has No Wings“ as the best Japanese film of 1966 on their “The best Japanese film of every year – from 1925 to now“ list.

Plot (Spoiler Alert)

1. Opening

The film begins with the footage of an emerging Papilio memnon and the following text.

“Papilio memnon is known as an example of a purely tropical butterfly that has naturalized in Japan. It mainly feeds on pomelo. It undergoes metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar, then from caterpillar to chrysalis, and finally emerges from chrysalis and becomes a butterfly.“

2. Hokkaido

A boy living in Hokkaido (Minoru Hiranaka) discovers a specimen of Papilio memnon in a department store.

The boy catches a Papilio memnon in a white birch forest and he tells his elementary school teacher (Shoichi Ozawa) about it, but his teacher denies his claim, saying that it should be found only at the south end in all of Japan.

The boy finds that the specimen of Papilio memnon in the department store is missing.

A professor (Rokkō Toura) of Hokkaido University admonishes the boy, talking about the Piltdown Man hoax.

In a plateau, the boy meets a girl (Mariko Kaga).

She is a granddaughter of an old man (Kyū Sazanka) of Ainu. She shows her grandfather the butterfly catched by the boy. The old man says something mysterious about butterflies to the boy.

The boy tears the Papilio memnon and drops it in the Ishikari River.

3. Nagasaki

In Nagasaki, a Papilio memnon caterpillar is eating a pomelo leaf.

A man with a pomelo fruit takes the train to Tokyo. He finds that there is a caterpillar on the fruit, and throws the fruit from a train window.

4. Hagi

In Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture, a girl (Mariko Kaga) is putting the caterpillar in her hand.

A woman named Mitsuko Ogiya and her lover Taizo Hata (Hiroyuki Nagato) are holding each other in a storehouse in her old household.

Hata had killed Mitsuko’s husband Saburo Ogiya in conspiracy with her.

Hata invites Mitsuko to escape with him, but Mitsuko says that she can’t leave her household.

5. Hiroshima

Set in Hiroshima on 6th August, 1964, the atomic-bomb day.

Hata joins a demonstration march of the ban-the-bomb movement.

A young man (Yukio Ninagawa) comes from Tokyo to Hiroshima to meet his former lover (Mariko Kaga), who is a girl who was exposed in womb due to the atomic bombing.

The young man follows the girl at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, where the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony is held.

The girl is living in a slum by the Ōta River.

Hata enters a strip club, where he reads in the paper that he is wanted for murdering Ogiya in Hagi.

That night the young man invites the girl to go back to Tokyo with him, but she refuses.

The people hold the ceremony of Tōrō nagashi (floating paper lanterns down a river) in the Motoyasu River near the Peace Park.

The young man and the girl hold each other.

The girl is confused to see the U.S. ABCC (Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission) vehicle headlights, and she shouts.

Images of the girl wandering around in Hiroshima.

Documentary footage of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony and the Hiroshima city at night.

Archival footage of Hiroshima burned down by the atomic bombing.

Sound effects and offscreen interview voices of the people living in Hiroshima after the atomic bombing are overlapped with these images.

6. Kyoto

In Kyoto, a middle-aged man (Hōsei Komatsu) and a girl (Mariko Kaga) are walking around Kyoto City Zoo, Sanjūsangen-dō, and a cemetery. The middle-aged man tries to make a pass at the girl.

The man is a retired veteran.

In the cemetery, in heavy rain, he is confused to 

recall his memory of wartime, and he shouts.

During the wartime, in the south battlefront, he loved a local girl, but he killed her and her family because her family was suspected of espionage.

The girl sings the theme song “A Lonely Butterfly“ at Nanzen-ji (Zen Buddhist temple), holding a parasol. In this scene, singer Sumiko Sakamoto sang the song as a voice-over actor.

There is the caterpillar on her hand.

7. Osaka

This part depicts one day of an office worker (Fumio Watanabe) who works at a large company without dialogue.

In an offscreen interview, female office workers at a large company talk about the fashion of male office workers.

The office worker spends the night with a woman he encountered at a bar.

8. Hong Kong

In a Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong, the leader of a gang hears a report from his henchman.

According to the report, a Papilio memnon caterpillar is being dealt with as a state secret, and they can deal it at two billion yen in Yokohama.

9. Port of Yokohama

This part includes action scenes like spy movies and crime movies.

In Yokohama and Tokyo, a bloody competition over the caterpillar unfolds among nations.

Archival footage of the 1960 Anpo protests.

Female singer (Sumiko Sakamoto) sings the Latin arrangement of the theme song “A Lonely Butterfly“.

Documentary footage of Self-Defense Forces Memorial Day. Tank corps is driving down the street in Ikebukuro, Tokyo.

10. Hokkaido

A mystery woman (Mariko Kaga), who is the personification of Papilio memnon, comes to Hokkaido by a jet plane.

She rides in a classic car (Ford, made in 1931) and comes to the boy. She is eating pomelo leaves.

The boy catches the Papilio memnon again.

He squeezes it to death, and throws it away.