It happened in the North China Sea…*
This week I really hit the entertainment jackpot. I found a 1964 adventure/drama starring Yul Brynner, Richard Whidmark and George Chakiris! Flight from Ashiya is no Kings of the Sun, but it certainly entertained me. Spoiler alert! The following leaves almost nothing out. The film begins as a typhoon rages around Ashiya, Japan. As part of the U.S. Army’s Air Rescue Service, our heroes must save some Japanese civilians adrift on a small raft after their ship goes down in the typhoon. George and Richard will fly the plane, while Yul, a very bald, very virile half-Japanese medic, will lead the actual rescue. So far, so good. They board the plane and start the flight, but then….
George has a FLASHBACK! Now we’re in the Alps a few years earlier flying a different rescue mission — one that goes tragically wrong. The crew manages to save one group of victims, including a mother whose baby Yul delivers, but when, despite Richard’s warning against it, George insists on making a second trip to rescue the remaining victims, tragedy ensues. Yul, who has the flight door wide open even in a blizzard, notices that George has flown too close to the mountain. Though he yells a warning, it is too late.
Somehow the vibration of the helicopter rotors has started an avalanche.
George has managed to kill the very people he is desperate to save. He feels terrible.
Returning to the present and the typhoon, George has doubts about whether he can fly the mission without killing everyone. Fortunately, Richard, the crusty veteran flyer, has plenty of confidence AND a cigar —
until he, too, has a FLASHBACK — this time to the Philippines just before WWII, where he meets the love of his life and we enjoy (?) a twenty- five minute love-story interlude until the war intervenes and tragedy strikes again. Richard’s new wife dies in a filthy Japanese POW camp. By some weird miracle, Richard arrives just in time to hold her in his arms one last time. Oh, and did I mention that she has lost their baby as well?
Meanwhile, back in the typhoon, after one rescue plane crashes in an attempt to land at sea, Yul offers to jump into the water, inflate a lifeboat and thereby save the people stranded on the raft. The plan works perfectly until a little boy gets swept overboard and Yul has to leap into the sea to rescue him. He manages to save the boy but a wave sweeps Yul away from the raft.
As his strength fails, he has a FLASHBACK — this time to somewhere in North Africa during WWII, where he falls hopelessly in love with a young local beauty. An even lengthier love-interlude (after all, Yul has top billing) ends in tragedy. The enemy has arrived and Yul has to leave in a hurry. His love Leila runs after him
only to get blown up by the bomb that Yul himself set.
Yul feels too bad for a close-up, but he does get rescued from the sea. Then both George and Richard pull themselves together enough to rescue everyone in the lifeboat, although Richard breaks his arm in the process. Everyone gets back to Ashiya safely. With only one arm, Richard comforts the wife of one of the men lost in the plane crash.
His confidence restored, George greets his lovely wife.
And the studly Yul returns to his latest lady-love but then abandons her for the little boy that he saved.
His girl understands and smiles quietly to herself.
Let’s review. Location-wise, the movie goes to Ashiya, Japan, somewhere in the Alps, the Philippines, somewhere in North Africa, and back to Ashiya. It involves at least three long FLASHBACKS, some racial tension (Richard’s hatred of the Japanese ‘runs deep’ but Yul understands), loads of trauma, and a very ‘fine’ script. Perfect viewing for an evening in quarantine!
Flight from Ashiya is available on Amazon Prime and on Youtube. You really should see it.
*Voice-over from Flight from Ashiya