Unbroken

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Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe Character Analysis

The novel’s antagonist and the epitome of evil, Watanabe is the cruel and psychopathic prison guard who singles out Louie for emotional and physical torture. Driven by a desire to feel powerful, Watanabe derives sexual pleasure and self-worth by using torture to dehumanize the prisoners. Watanabe is also vain and delusional, believing that that prisoners love and respect him. At the end of the war, Watanabe lacks total self-awareness and compassion, casting himself as a victim, rather than a perpetrator, of the horrors of war.

Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe Quotes in Unbroken

The Unbroken quotes below are all either spoken by Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe or refer to Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Survival and Resilience  Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Random House edition of Unbroken published in 2010.
Chapter 28 Quotes

Now he was condemned to crawl through the filth of a pig’s sty, picking up feces with his bare hands and cramming handfuls of the animal’s feed into his mouth to save himself from starving to death. Of all of the violent and vile abuses that the Bird had inflicted upon Louie, none had horrified and demoralized him as did this. If anything is going to shatter me, Louie thought, this is it.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini , Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe
Related Symbols: The Bird
Page Number: 291
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Louie is forced to endure an especially awful punishment at the hands of the sadistic "Bird": he’s forced to crawl on the floor of a pig sty, picking up pig feces with his bare hands. Furthermore, Louie has to eat the feces just to survive. This torture is not only disgusting and horrific, it's also entirely dehumanizing--Louie is made to act like an animal, or something even lower than an animal. The Bird is trying to break Louie’s spirit, and this kind of torture tries to get him to think of himself as a mere beast.

The passage shows Louie coming close to giving up entirely. And yet even here, at the nadir of his time in captivity, Louie maintains his sanity and his confidence (barely). The one Japanese soldier who treated him with kindness and support has inspired him to be strong. Thus, even while Louie is thinking about being “shattered,” he continues to maintain some distance from his own punishment—it’s as if he’s just closing his eyes and waiting for it to be over.

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Chapter 35 Quotes

Louie had no idea what had become of the Bird, but he felt sure that if he could get back to Japan, he could hunt him down. This would be his emphatic reply to the Bird’s unremitting effort to extinguish his humanity: I am still a man. He could conceive of no other way to save himself. Louie had found a quest to replace his lost Olympics. He was going to kill the Bird.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini , Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe
Related Symbols: The Bird
Page Number: 361
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hillenbrand shows us how low Louie has sunk after coming home from World War Two. Louie endured incredibly harsh conditions in his POW camp—most of it at the hands of a Japanese soldier nicknamed “The Bird." The result is that Louie, despite having survived the war, feels a continued hatred for the Bird. He’s been so traumatized by his violent torture that he thinks the only solution is more violence. Thus, Louie plans to return to Japan and kill his old tormenter. He feels helpless and lost in America, and feels that he can only take meaningly action and reclaim his human dignity by taking the life of his enemy.

Louie’s attempts to find justice and peace after World War Two are especially poignant because they suggest that the remainder of his life will be dominated by his memories of the past. Louie has always been an optimistic person who focuses on the future; now, he can think of no future other than one in which he settles his past scores.

Chapter 37 Quotes

No one could reach Louie, because he had never really come home. In prison camp, he’d been beaten into dehumanized obedience to a world order in which the Bird was absolute sovereign, and it was under this world order that he still lived. The Bird had taken his dignity and left him feeling humiliated, ashamed, and powerless, and Louie believed that only the Bird could restore him, by suffering and dying in the grip of his hands. A once singularly hopeful man now believed that his only hope lay in murder.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini , Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe
Related Symbols: The Bird
Page Number: 373
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Hillenbrand sums up Louie’s state of being after World War Two and before his religious conversion. He’s always been optimistic, and yet he’s now singularly fixated on the past rather than the future. Furthermore, Louie feels the need to struggle for his humanity and assert himself through violence. He spent so long being treated like an animal that he internalized some of the feelings of inferiority that the Bird was trying to make him feel. Louie rationally knows that he’s a human being, but he can’t help but hate himself as a result of the humiliating exercises he was forced to endure in Japan.

What Hillenbrand is describing, of course, is post-traumatic stress disorder, though the term hadn’t yet been popularized at the time. Louie doesn’t know that he’s suffering from a serious psychological affliction—as far as he’s concerned, his problem is his and his alone. Thus, instead of seeking help from doctors or counselors, Louie tries to solve his problems with violence—i.e., by killing the Bird.

Chapter 39 Quotes

In Sugamo Prison, as he was told of Watanabe’s fate, all Louie saw was a lost person, a life now beyond redemption. He felt something that he had never felt for his captor before. With a shiver of amazement, he realized that it was compassion. At that moment, something shifted sweetly inside him. It was forgiveness, beautiful and effortless and complete. For Louie Zamperini, the war was over.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini , Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe
Explanation and Analysis:

Louie was unbroken during the war because he faced the terrible traumas of the war, of the Japanese camps, and of the Bird with a refusal to give in or give up. He faced all these obstacles as enemies to be beaten, and he beat them. And yet after the war he found that the skills that allowed him to beat those obstacles -- rage, refusal to give in -- were essentially eating him alive. He survived the war; it did not break him physically. But it broke him emotionally.

As this quote shows, though, through religion Louie finds a way to mend himself, to un-break himself. Religion gives him a way to escape the mindset of war -- victory or death, defeat or be defeated -- and find instead compassion and forgiveness. Here he finds compassion, even, for the most hateful, vengeful enemy he faced: the Bird. And it is only when he feels that compassion for the Bird, when his faith allows him to be  able to recognize a kind of fundamental dignity in the Bird despite all that the bird did, that Louie is able to feel that dignity in himself as well and to leave the war behind, that he is able to truly be unbroken.

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Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe Character Timeline in Unbroken

The timeline below shows where the character Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe appears in Unbroken. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 23: Monster
Survival and Resilience  Theme Icon
...the Omori camp, Louie encounters a handsome prison guard with large, brutish hands named Mutsuhiro Watanabe. Watanabe inspects the new arrivals at the camp, shouting that they should each state their... (full context)
Dignity Theme Icon
Belief and Faith Theme Icon
Mutsuhiro Watanabe was born to a wealthy Tokyo family. He had lofty expectations for himself as a... (full context)
War and Identity  Theme Icon
At Omori, Watanabe gains a reputation as an especially cruel guard who uses psychological and emotional torture on... (full context)
Dignity Theme Icon
Belief and Faith Theme Icon
Watanabe also seeks the friendship and affection of the inmates in order to boost his vain... (full context)
Chapter 24: Hunted
War and Identity  Theme Icon
When Louie meets the other prisoners, they tell him not to call Watanabe by his real name. If he hears the prisoners using his name, he will beat... (full context)
Survival and Resilience  Theme Icon
Dignity Theme Icon
Watanabe’s attacks intensify. When the Bird demands that Louie look him in the eyes, Louie refuses,... (full context)
Chapter 27: Falling Down
Dignity Theme Icon
War and Identity  Theme Icon
After Watanabe leaves, the kind guard Yukichi Kano takes his place and the Bird’s reign of terror... (full context)
Chapter 28: Enslaved
Survival and Resilience  Theme Icon
Watanabe had specifically requested that the Omori camp officials transfer Louie to Naoetsu so that he... (full context)
Chapter 31: The Naked Stampede
Redemption and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
War and Identity  Theme Icon
Watanabe escapes the prison before the men have a chance to take revenge on him. On... (full context)
Chapter 36: The Body on the Mountain
War and Identity  Theme Icon
In the winter of 1946, the Japanese police expand their search for Watanabe. An aged police officer travels to the largest home in a small mountain village and... (full context)
Dignity Theme Icon
War and Identity  Theme Icon
Watanabe had come to this out-of-the-way village and taken the job as a servant to evade... (full context)
Redemption and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
War and Identity  Theme Icon
In the mountain village, the farmer requests that Watanabe accompany his son on a trip through major cities. In the cities, no one recognizes... (full context)
Redemption and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
War and Identity  Theme Icon
Watanabe returns to the farmer’s village. The Bird works as a waiter in the farmer’s son’s... (full context)
War and Identity  Theme Icon
...gunshot wound obscures his face, the police think that the man matches the description of Watanabe. They bring in his mother, Shizuka, to identify the dead body. She says it’s her... (full context)
Chapter 38: A Beckoning Whistle
Belief and Faith Theme Icon
Two years after the Japanese government announced that he was dead, Watanabe sees his mother again. The last time they spoke was two years ago when he... (full context)
Epilogue
Redemption and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
After the Japanese announced his death, Watanabe spent several years working as a farm hand. In 1952, he read a newspaper article... (full context)
Redemption and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
In the following years, Watanabe marries, has two children, and makes a small fortune by starting an insurance agency. In... (full context)
Redemption and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Belief and Faith Theme Icon
At Louie’s request, Mihailovich tries setting up a meeting between him and the Watanabe during the Olympic Games, but the Bird refuses. Unable to offer his captor forgiveness, Louie... (full context)