Backed in part by a dozen Japanese production companies, Midnight Eagle also received financing from Universal Pictures, which originally planned to distribute it in the United States. The fact that the film is instead getting a limited opening from another, much smaller distributor should be a strong clue about Midnight Eagle's merits. Less an adventure than a confused message drama about Japanese military preparedness, it will have trouble building even a niche audience.
Based on a novel by thriller author Tetsuo Takashima, Midnight Eagle works from familiar elements of big-budget intrigue films, even though these elements never quite add up. Yuji Nishizaki (Takao Osawa), a widowed photojournalist disillusioned with covering war, has retreated to the Northern Alps near Matsumoto. One night while camping near Mt. Mitekesawi, he photographs a mysterious object crashing from the sky. He sends the pictures to Shinichiro Ochiai (Hiroshi Tamaki), who was inspired to become a reporter by Yuji's work. Now he has to persuade his mentor to pursue what is turning into a government cover-up. The two ignore blizzard conditions and circumvent military patrols to climb the mountain.
Keiko Arisawa (Yuko Takeuchi), the sister of Yuji's deceased wife, writes for a news magazine in Tokyo. While her staff tries to decipher the object in Yuji's photos, she traces the cover-up all the way to Prime Minister Watarase (Tatsuya Fuji). As details of the incident emerge, the race to reach the crash site becomes even more important.
Attacked by heavily armed foreign soldiers on the mountain, Yuji and Ochiai are rescued by Saeki (Eisaku Yoshida), a major with the Japanese Self-Defense Force. When the three finally reach the crash site, they discover that the "Midnight Eagle," actually a U.S. stealth fighter bomber, could bring about the start of World War III.
The crashed jet is equipped with a video camera, allowing Yuji and his companions to communicate visually as well as verbally with the Prime Minister, his staff, and Keiko, who have gathered in a top-secret Tokyo bunker. But instead of building to an action-filled climax, the film devolves into endless debates about personal sacrifice, the responsibilities of government leaders, who is to blame when a wife dies of an unnamed illness, and whether napalm will detonate a nuclear weapon.
With frequent close-ups of quivering lips and eyes brimming with tears, and subplots devoted to hapless immigrants impregnated by foreign agents, Midnight Eagle is far more sentimental than American audiences prefer. It's unlikely that screenwriters here could get away with a female character as inept and fainthearted as Keiko, who squeals when she sees a gun, and who spends much of the film cowering. A bigger question is whether filmgoers anywhere will be satisfied with the maudlin self-sacrifice that permeates Midnight Eagle.