Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 12/06/23

“This is the unknown, true story about the other side of the Pearl Harbor Attack.” That’s author T. Martin Bennett‘s one-line description of Wounded Tiger, his historical nonfiction novel telling the story of the spiritual impact the attack on Pearl Harbor (42 years ago tomorrow) had not just on the world but on the real-life people who lived through it, notably the Japanese aviator who led the infamous air assault, an American serviceman and the daughter of Baptist missionaries.

JWK: What brought you to this story – and can you briefly outline what it’s about?
T. Martin Bennett: The biggest question people ask is “How’d you come across this story?” From an early age I’ve always loved true stories, biographies and films like that…I stumbled across this story about fifteen years ago and I thought “How have I never heard about this guy Mitsuo Fuchida who led the attack on Pearl Harbor?” The more I got into it the better it got.

It entails three different characters. Mitsuo Fuchida who led the attack and who was handpicked by Admiral Yamamoto. He was selfishly ambitious – and he was ambitious for his country. Bombing Pearl Harbor, for him, was like the greatest day of his life.

Then there’s a character named Jake DeShazer who was an American who volunteered for the Army because he needed a job and needed money. He was in the US Army Air Corps, the precursor to the Air Force. He volunteered – unknowingly – for the Doolittle Raid. Because it was so secret, they wouldn’t even tell him what it was. He ends up becoming a prisoner of war and he’s filled with hatred toward the Japanese people.

And the third plotline is the Covell family – parents and three children – who were in Japan as teachers and missionaries. The parents fled to the Philippines. The children were sent to the US.These three plotlines go concurrently until ultimately they come together toward the end. So, this is a story really about a demonstration of the effects of hatred and love and the transformational power of that love.

JWK: Where does the title Wounded Tiger come from?

TMB: That’s a great question. Wounded Tiger is, of course, a metaphor. It represents the nation of Japan. You’ll see in the book that historically (Japan) was marginalized by the First World nations – Great Britain, France and the United States. They felt like there were being marginalized into a second tier system. They didn’t like that. They wanted the recognition that the other countries got.

After World War I there was a thing called the League of Nations which was the precursor to the United Nations. The Japanese put forth what’s called the Racial Equality Proposal and it got voted down. That infuriated the people. The book title represents Japan in general but it represents Fuchida in particular because he wanted to demonstrate himself.

A tiger, in particular, is an animal that has potential for great power and beauty – but a wounded tiger is crippled and cannot ever achieve that goal. So, ultimately, the story is everyone’s story. Everyone is a wounded tiger. We all have potential for greatness, for beauty and for accomplishing things but the wounds of our own choices or how others have affected our lives prevent us from getting there. What we see in Wounded Tiger the book – and through the characters – is how that changes, how they become a triumphant tiger and they overcome obstacles that are apparently insurmountable. It looks impossible that this could ever end well – and yet it does. That’s the encouraging thing about this story.

JWK: For the individuals – and for the country of Japan which has certainly rebounded since World War II ended.
TMB: We’re now friends. Our nations are like best friends now, even greater than much of East Asia. So, yeah, it’s really a tremendous story of personal reconciliation and international reconciliation.

JWK: How does the Prayer of St. Francis figure into the story?

TMB: Peggy Covell is a key character from the Covell family. Her father is Jimmy Covell. He was very much antiwar. He had memorized the Prayer of St. Francis as its called. It wasn’t written by St. Francis but it’s associated with his name because it was printed on a card back in the early 20th century. He would think of these things: “Where there is sorrow, let me bring joy” etc. He wanted to be that person and live that out. You see in the story how he actually does live that out and how it ends up in his life.

Then his daughter likewise takes up the same banner. She makes this her own life prayer. She does the same thing her father does, loving people self-sacrificially. What you see from the net result of this Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi is that simple people doing simple acts of love and kindness can have a monumental impact on other people and the world. That’s what we see with Peggy Covell and how her life affected the life of Matsuo Fuchida. It’s unbelievable what happened – and how it happened. The odds are literally like millions to one that anything like that would ever happen.

JWK: This is actually the third edition of your book. You have some updates, right?

TMB: Yeah. I wrote the screenplay first about twelve years ago then I novelized it into book form. I didn’t have a publisher. We self-published it for two editions. This is the third edition. We now have backing and funding. It’s a national campaign. We’ve made hundreds of changes, hundreds of updates. Fuchida’s son…passed away about three or four years ago. He had really a cache of his father’s photos, documents and everything else. That was then given to Stanford University. So, I went up to Stanford last year and went through hundreds and hundreds of photos, letters and everything else. I incorporated many of those into the book so you’ll see all kinds of differences if you read the prior book – but very few people have. However, something interesting about the prior book is that we’ve had over 700 reviews and it has a higher five-star rating than John Grisham‘s most popular book The Firm. So, people really do identify with the story and find themselves encouraged.

JWK: So, this story is being called a nonfiction novel. Can you explain that term?

TMB: Yeah. I wrote this as a screenplay first. If you know anything about screenwriting, it’s all written in the present tense. It’s all happening right now in front of you. When films are done – a true story, a live-action film – it’s happening in front of you. If you go to a nonfiction book it’s like “He did this,” “They went there,” “He said this.” It just slows the whole thing down. It’s not dynamic. I started researching how to tell this story in the most dynamic way. One thing that’s been done before is Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (which was written) as a “nonfiction novel.” In other words, it’s written in the format of fiction but it’s a true story. So, what I did is I converted it into a nonfiction novel – but I don’t want people thinking I’m just making things up. This is a highly researched and vetted story. As I write in the introduction, the essence of every scene in this story is true. So, that’s how I wrote it. The net result is – with the combination of the hundreds of photos and the dynamic format of fiction – people say they just feel like they’re there while these things are happening. I’m really happy with the way it worked out.

JWK: Was there any dramatic license taken as screenplays often do – combining scenes, anything like that? How closely did you stick to the facts of the story?

TMB: Extremely close. The problem is (some people use) “artistic license” (to) start fabricating information. The only things I used artistic license for were plausible things. For example, if we know historically that Fuchida had a conversation with Admiral Yamamoto and we have the summary of that conversation but we don’t have a transcript, I can recreate that conversation (fairly) accurately. That’s what I did in the book – and I had it vetted and critiqued by Japanese nationals to make sure everything was the way in which the Japanese communicate. Technically, that’s fiction because you have to recreate the conversation but if you were in a court of law and you had to recreate a conversation, it’s really in the same zone. It’s a summary of something that took place. So, no I did not use “artistic license” to create things that didn’t happen…Every significant fact in this story is true but it is written in the format of fiction just to be more dynamic.

JWK: You wrote this first as a screenplay so, obviously, you’d like to see a movie come out of this.
TMB: Yeah. I did bring the screenplay to investors and filmmakers and I’ve had four offers make this film. This is an over 100-million dollar picture. The problem was all of these people required full creative control which would put me in a position where I’d have no ability to protect the integrity of the story. That was a deal breaker for me. So, I turned all those things down. But what happened was about two years ago the producer of Hacksaw Ridge came to me and said “Hey, listen, what’s going on with this project?” I told him the difficulty in raising money for the film. He said “Martin, forget about the film. Get the book to the top of the charts. That’s when the investors will come to you.”…What we want is for investors to realize this is a cinematic story that people want to see on the big screen…We will fully fund this (as) a film. We will produce it and we will release it. I’m 100% committed to it.
JWK: Do you have any casting ideas?
TMB: Not really – but I would love to see Ron Howard direct this picture. I think he would love it. I think he’s the right kind of person for it.

JWK: Finally, what do you hope people take from this story?

TMB: I want this to be a catalyst for people to consider Christ who might not otherwise do so…What’s very interesting is Fuchida did not have any interest in Christ or The Bible either. He was interested in why anyone would love their enemies. His curiosity got him to read The Bible. I believe – and I’ve seen – this story to be a catalyst for people to consider Christ who otherwise would not normally do so. They come back very enthusiastic about the story…saying “Wow! This story really impacted me deeply. I’ve been thinking about it for the last three days!”

So, that’s what my hope is – to encourage people that there’s a better way to live, God cares about us (and) He has a great future for everyone.

“This film reminds us that we are all in this together.”  That’s director George Clooney talking about the inspiring The Boys in the Boat, only in theaters this Christmas.


Programming Note: Hanukkah Special with Erick Stakelbeck airs tomorrow (12/07) at 8:00 PM on TBN and the TBN app. Filmed at the sites where all the legendary exploits of the Maccabees and the Hanukkah story happened, Erick will detail the history of Hanukkah with the help of Rabbi Jason Sobel, Dennis Prager and other experts on the history of the Jewish faith.

John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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