The Highest Honor

The Highest Honour is a 1982 Australian/Japanese co-production[3] about Operation Jaywick and Operation Rimau by Z Special Unit during World War II.[4]

The Highest Honour
Directed byPeter Maxwell
Seiji Maruyama
Produced byLee Robinson
John McCallum
Written byLee Robinson
Katsua Susaki
Based onbook by Yuzuru Shinozaki
StarringJohn Howard
Steve Bisley
Music byEric Jupp
CinematographyJohn McLean
Southern International Films
Distributed bySeven Network (AUS)
Toho (Japan)
Enterprise (UK)
New World Pictures (US, 1985)[1]
Release date
9 August 1989 (Australian TV)
Running time
96 mins(US)
108 mins (AUS)
143 mins (Japan)
Budgetover A$5 million[2]

The same story inspired the mini-series Heroes (1988) and Heroes II: The Return (1991).


During World War II, a team of Australian soldiers from Z Special Unit, including Ivan Lyon and Robert Page, successfully lead an expedition to destroy ships in Singapore harbour, Operation Jaywick. An attempt to duplicate this success, Operation Rimau, ends in disaster, with the team either killed or captured. These soldiers are interrogated by the Japanese in Singapore, with Page forming a friendship with Minoru Tamiya. Eventually all the Australians are convicted of war crimes and executed.[5]



Producers John McCallum and Lee Robinson had previously made a film about Z Special Unit, Attack Force Z (1981). Robinson said he was approached to make the film by a member of the Australian embassy in Tokyo in 1980. He says the official asked him if he was interested in making a movie about Jaywick and Rimau with a Japanese company. Robinson says he spent a year researching the story in Japanese and Australian archives.[2]

The film was originally shot under the title of Southern Cross. Production took place in 1982. It was financed by two dozen Australian businessmen and a Japanese production company, Shinihon Eija, who contributed $1.5 million in marketing and production costs.[2]

There were two versions of the film – Australian and Japanese. Robinson later said the two versions were intrinsically the same but the emphasis in the Japanese film was more towards the Japanese actors and vice versa.[2]

Robinson later said that "the film is a human story of how a friendship can develop among enemies and how human spirit rises above the atrocities of war. It is an anti-war film set in a period remembered for horrendous slayings of civilians."[6]


The film was never released theatrically in Australia[7] but did screen as a tv mini-series in 1989.[8] It did obtain a theatrical release in the US and UK and McCallum says the film sold widely to television. It was also known as Heroes of the Krait and Minami Jujisei.[9]

The widow of Bob Page and survivors of Z Force were furious with the film, claiming it was far too complimentary to the Japanese. Robinson admitted the film was "50 percent fiction" and that "there is no doubt that the whole picture is designed as an apology, but with facts as dramatic as these, why play around with it? What gives the film the impact is the constant reminder that this is true."[2]

Robinson admitted there was an occasion when the Japanese producers wanted the prison set to have pillows and sheets on the bed to make them look nicer, but he refused. A scene where a Japanese officer comes to Australia ten years after the war to make peace with one of the widows, Roma Greemish, was cut at the request of Ms Greemish.[2]

McCallum later said that "Stuart Wilson was very good in" the film but:

It got bogged down with too much Japanese dialogue, because they were co-producing, and put up half the money. They insisted on a lot of Japanese. I said, 'You're the villains in this, you beheaded the Australians.' But they thought they'd make a huge amount of money out of it; the man behind the film company was a millionaire. He took us up there, Robinson and myself and some of the actors, and we had a great jamboree of a week in Tokyo, where he had a huge launch of the damn thing in a huge cinema. He said 'We're releasing it tomorrow all over Japan. We expect to make three million.' I think they lost three million.[10]

In 1982 Thomas Keneally was reported as working on a script for another film based on Operation Rimau called Rimau for the South Australian Film Corporation to be made for $1 million, but no film eventuated.[2]


  1. Richard Christiansen, 'Highest Honour Suffers From Story Overload', Chicago Tribune 18 January 1985 accessed 25 June 2012
  2. Sue Johnson, 'After 37 years and 10 beheadings, Operation Rimau Explodes Again', Sydney Morning Herald, 27 March 1982 p 41
  3. Sue Johnson, 'After 37 years and 10 beheadings, Operation Rimau Explodes Again', Sydney Morning Herald, 27 March 1982 p 41
  4. "World War II beheading on film". The Canberra Times. 16 January 1982. p. 18. Retrieved 18 August 2015 via National Library of Australia.
  5. Lithgow, Shirley, 'Page, Robert Charles (1920–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University accessed 25 June 2012
  6. "World War II beheading on film". The Canberra Times. 16 January 1982. p. 18. Retrieved 30 August 2015 via National Library of Australia.
  7. David Stratton, The Avocado Plantation: Boom and Bust in the Australian Film Industry, Pan MacMillan, 1990 p44
  8. Ed. Scott Murray, Australia on the Small Screen 1970–1995, Oxford University Press, 1996 p145
  9. The Highest Honour at National Film and Sound Archive
  10. John McCallum interview with Brian McFarlane, The Oxford Companion to Australian Film, Oxford University Press, 1999 p 300
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