7. Mutsuhiro Watanabe – Unbroken
Wartime drama and real-life stories go hand in hand, but that doesn’t mean that all war movie villains were real people. 2014’s Unbroken follows WWII US Army officer Louie Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) after he is captured by Japanese soldiers and imprisoned in a series of POW camps. It’s in one of these that he meets the sadistic Corporal Mutsuhiro Watanabe (Miyavi).
As sadistic and unpleasant as Watanabe is in Unbroken, it’s probably more comforting for modern audiences to believe that he’s a work of fiction. Unfortunately, he is not: Mutsuhiro Watanabe – or “the Bird”, as he was better known – was in fact a very real Japanese war criminal. Watanabe was known for his brutal treatment of his prisoners, involving various methods of torture too unpleasant to chronicle here.
Not only were Watanabe’s crimes very much real, but he was never held accountable for them. Despite being listed as one of General Douglas MacArthur’s most wanted war criminals in Japan, Watanabe evaded capture after the end of World War II and became an insurance salesman. In 1998, he was interviewed, and was entirely unrepentant of his crimes, simply stating that he had “treated the prisoners strictly as enemies of Japan“. Watanabe died in 2003.