Tokyo In a war for territory, resources and oil, American planes indiscriminately bomb cities, killing women and children. Some of the aircraft are hit and 38 crew parachute to enemy soil. After a summary trial, all are beheaded. Plus ca change. Those air raids took place in the final months of the second world war, when American B-29s abandoned the last rules of warfare and dropped hundreds of tonnes of high explosives and napalm on Japan. By August 1945, almost 70 cities had been reduced to smouldering ash and more than half a million people, mostly civilians, were dead. The architect of the bombing, Curtis LeMay, reportedly said: 'If we had lost the war, we would have been tried as war criminals.' In the event, the war criminals were all judged to have been on the other side. The most infamous Class-A category prisoners, including wartime prime minister Hideki Tojo, were tried in the Tokyo War Crimes tribunals and executed. But what about the B- and C-class leaders who were condemned during the little-known Yokohama Trials? A new movie, Best Wishes for Tomorrow, is currently being shot in Tokyo and depicts the fate of the man who ordered the beheading of the 38 American airmen. General Tasuku Okada was tried in 1948 in Yokohama, where he argued that the airmen were not entitled to prisoner-of-war status, says scriptwriter Roger Pulvers. 'He considered the indiscriminate bombing of civilians war crimes,' says Pulvers on the movie's set in Tokyo's Toho Studios. 'So he tried them as war criminals, not subject to the Geneva Convention. He said during the trial that he didn't consider himself a war criminal.' But Okada, played in the movie by gravel-voiced actor Makoto Fujita, was also one of the few officers in the Imperial Army who took responsibility for his actions. The general made no attempt to pass the buck up or down the chain of command to his 19 men, who were also on trial. Before he walked to the gallows, he thanked the American-led military commission for its fairness. 'That makes his story heroic,' says Pulvers, who mentioned in interviews how Okada's story contrasts sharply with the behaviour of political leaders today. Best Wishes isn't for those who like their history served neatly wrapped and served on a bed of easy moral platitudes. The Americans, after all, killed civilians in mass numbers and the defence that they were just following orders was the same as that offered by the Japanese and Germans. Okada is portrayed as an intelligent and reflective man capable of kindness toward his men, and love for his wife. The movie is one of several that have recently revisited Japan's experience of the second world war, including Clint Eastwood's much-praised double header, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, which went further than any previous Hollywood product in reappraising the former enemy. Letters even had a sympathetic Japanese leader, the reluctant warrior Tadamichi Kuribayashi, played by Ken Watanabe. The recent crop also includes I Go to Die for You, a movie eulogising the sacrifices and bravery of Japan's wartime kamikaze pilots, scripted by Tokyo's right-wing Governor Shintaro Ishihara. One Tokyo movie reviewer called Ishihara's movie an attempt to provide a modern remedy 'for the sickness of the Japanese soul'. But Best Wishes is unlikely to give much comfort to ultra-nationalists who want to rehabilitate Tojo and his gang of imperialists. Director Takashi Koizumi pulls no punches in condemning Japanese military leaders, who, as the movie's narration reminds us, carried out the indiscriminate bombing of Nanjing, Hankou and Chongqing. In case the point is missed that the theme is power, not race or nationality, the film includes footage of wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Palestine. Koizumi, who was assistant on many of the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's later movies, including Ran, says he's not interested in whether Okada was a hero or not. 'I'm more concerned in accurately grasping and portraying his character,' he says. 'We want to try to understand who he was and bring him alive.' Koizumi says he was attracted to the general's story because it has a 'ring of truth'. The movie is set mainly in the courtroom and explores the mutual respect forged between Okada and his American defence lawyer, Joseph Featherstone, played by Robert Lesser. Fred McQueen plays chief prosecutor Richard Burnett, who in real life appealed for Okada's death sentence to be commuted. But on the day I visited, much of the set's emotional power came from the mostly non-verbal relationship between the Japanese general and his loyal wife, Haruko. 'She's resigned to the fact that he's going to fight to the end and die,' says Sumiko Fuji, the veteran actress who plays her. Fuji must communicate what she calls a look of tenderness and mercy to her doomed husband from across the courtroom. The shackled Okada can do little but match her gaze. Like many former soldiers, war seemingly turned him into a pacifist. Pulvers says that in his prison diaries, Okada wrote: 'Humanity should eradicate war by whatever means necessary.' But he added that he saw little possibility of that happening.