In the Summer of 1945…
The world was full of pillage and discord. People had lost all hope in life. It was the waning days of World War II.
Just prior to the Hiroshima atomic bomb drop, the U.S. Navy briefly encounters the mysterious submarine they call the Iron Witch or, simplified The Witch. Using sonar, American crewmen hear the distinct sound of a woman’s melodic voice… Singing…
The vessel vanishes like a ghost. These are the opening moments of the Fuji Television and Toho Studios production of Lorelei: The Witch of the Pacific Ocean (2005). WWII buffs, Gotengo/Atragon fans and alternative history enthusiasts will enjoy this film. I liken it a bit in spirit to the Don Taylor (Lloyd Kaufman produced!) film The Final Countdown (1980). Lorelei offers an alternative “what if” view of the last days of the war, with solid acting, an interesting plot, so-so story and, much like Nemo’s submarine Nautilus in Disney’s 20,000 Leaugues Under the Sea (1954), a central character in the fictional submarine vessel I-507.
After the fall of The Third Reich, the Nazis bestow the experimental submarine I-507 to the Japanese Navy. The submarine is a masterpiece of the Kriegsmarine, with unique features that render the vessel the last hope for Japan. The I-507 is equipped with two massive turret-mounted guns, torpedo tubes and a deployable mini-sub. The miniature submarine is named Lorelei after a German witch of folklore. Lorelei is equipped with the capability of rendering three-dimensional sonar-like imaging over a 150 mile range. It is the I-507’s eyes.
Lorelei is piloted by sexy Paula Atsuko (beautiful actress Yuu Kashii), who interfaces bio-mechanically with Lorelei. Atsuko looks good in a white bandage jump suit that reminds me of Milla Jovovich’s Leeloo in The Fifth Element (1997). The film also borrows a bit from The Matrix films.
The I-507 is given to the helm of Lt. Commander Masami (played with gusto by Kôji Yakusho). Masami’s sets off on a secret mission to intercept the second (Nagasaki) bomb with a “motley crew of unlucky bastards”.
The film jumps around between Japanese and American units, and we see the familiar cat and mouse game prevalent in submarine films such as The Enemy Below (1957) and Das Boot (1981), and a mutiny ala The Hunt for Red October (1990). I got bored with several silly sub-plots and re-iteration of Japanese patriotism. The film would be better cropped down from 128 minutes to about 90 minutes. I wonder if this played in 2 parts on Japanese TV?
Lorelei offers particularly nice cinematography and the photography is strikingly composed. I especially liked some of the flash-back sequences rendered in black and white, with Paula reflecting on a war-torn adolescence. These scenes are creative and make Lorelei worthwhile.
Romance on the I-507?
“If sonar is a ship’s ears, Lorelei is its eyes”.
Lorelei’s biggest asset is the look of the film. The production design is top-notch and adequately blends the use of sets, models and CGI. The special effects were supervised by Tetsuo Ohya, who worked on Godzilla 2000 (1999). The I-507 is a masterful design, based on the lines of the historical French submarine the Surcouf. I even tolerated the computer renders, which is rare for me. While no classic, Lorelei is worth a look.