2010, Total Running Time 112 Minutes
From the corridors of power to the blood-stained battlefields of the Papua New Guinea highlands, Kokoda tells the story of the brutal World War II military campaign between Australia and Japan that changed the course of Australian history.
While most Australians have heard of the Kokoda Track – the scene of an eight-month campaign that led to the defeat of advancing Imperial Japanese Army and proved a turning point for the Allies in World War II – few know much about the struggle that forged its treacherous reputation. No army had fought in such terrible conditions; no general believed it possible.
Fought without mercy by foes with everything to lose, the ferocious battle for the Kokoda Track saw bravery and atrocity, noble and malicious intent on both sides. From day one of the Kokoda campaign, the fighting was politicised, mismanaged, mythologised and venerated. Kokoda delves behind the myths of war to tell the story from both sides of the conflict, giving an authentic and comprehensive account of the desperate confusion of war, the intricate connections between the frontline soldiers and military high command, and the political agendas that influenced the campaign and continue to percolate through contemporary Australian society.
In telling this story, for the first time the camera crew walked and filmed the entire Kokoda Track authentically capturing the visceral nature of the terrain. The series follows in the footsteps of Australia’s ill-equipped and poorly trained conscripts, the “chocolate soldiers” and the battle hardened AIF troops, walking the treacherous 98-kilometre jungle trail from Port Moresby to Kokoda, then on to the blood-stained battlegrounds of Gona, Buna and Sanandanda.
The two-hour documentary series includes interviews with Australian and Japanese veterans and historians; letters to loved ones; previously unpublished documents and archival footage; footage from the track and dramatisations in Australia and Papua New Guinea, while the diaries of embedded war correspondents Okada Seizo and Chester Wilmot paint an intimate picture of how soldiers on both sides felt during the battles.
It introduces the key commanders, including controversial American General Douglas MacArthur, Australia’s General Sir Thomas Blamey, and Japanese Commander Tomitaro Horii, for whom defeat in a campaign that had cost thousands of Japanese lives, was intolerable. Kokoda examines the Australian public’s response to military campaigns – both then and now – and the myths that they engender. Produced by Andrew Wiseman and directed by Don Featherstone, the two-hour documentary series is based on the best-selling book, Kokoda, by Paul Ham.
The Invasion While most Australians have heard of the Kokoda Track – the scene of an eight-month campaign that led to the defeat of advancing Imperial Japanese Army and proved a turning point for the Allies in World War II – few know much about the struggle that forged its treacherous reputation. No army had fought in such terrible conditions; no general thought it possible. Yet Kokoda was a vital struggle. The Japanese had entered the war and moved relentlessly towards Australia conquering all the nations in their path, almost at will. They had to be stopped somewhere. For the first time in the mountains of Papua New Guinea they saw resistance, serious resistance the likes of which they had never experienced before. First from a handful of militiamen and then from battle hardened AIF troops. In a war fought without mercy by foes with everything to lose, the ferocious battle for the Kokoda Track saw bravery and atrocity, noble and malicious intent on both sides. The diggers were fighting for their country’s survival as the only free nation in Asia.
The Counterattack In late September 1942 things looked grim for the Australians fighting in Papua New Guinea. The Japanese army had advanced to Ioribaiwa Ridge just 40 kilometres from Port Moresby. The Australian soldiers facing them on Imita Ridge believed they were the last line of defence of their homeland. If Port Moresby fell Australia could be taken out of the war. The Australian counterattack would begin from here. It became a war fought utterly without mercy as the Japanese retreated for the first time in the Pacific war. There was a savagery now that infected the minds of both armies, the only hope was to kill them before they killed you. The diggers were striving to force the Japanese back along the track and into the sea; the Japanese had been re-enforced and refused to relinquish their foothold in Papua New Guinea. To tell the story with authenticity, the Kokoda film crew walked and filmed the length of the Kokoda Track, capturing for the first time the visceral nature of the terrain and the green hell of the Owen Stanley Mountains.
A Screen Australia Making History Program. Screen Australia and Pericles Film Productions in association with Featherstone Productions. Based on a book "Kokoda" by Paul Ham. © 2011 NFSA, Film Victoria and Pericles Film Productions Pty Ltd.
Director: Don Featherstone
Total Running Time: 112 Minutes ( 2 x 56 Minutes)
Classification: M. Consumer advice: Mature themes, violence and war footage.
Curriculum Links: History, SOSE, HSIE, Australian Studies, English, Media Studies. Of particular relevance for NSW History Stage 5, Topic 4 'Australia and World War II'.