Unbroken vs. True Story of Louis Zamperini and Mutsuhiro Watanabe

Her Royal Ha-ha-highness: Queen Elizabeth’s Funniest Moments! |⭐ OSSA
Her Royal Ha-ha-highness: Queen Elizabeth’s Funniest Moments! |⭐ OSSA


Jack O’Connell

Born: August 1, 1990


Derby, England, UK

Louis Zamperini

Born: January 26, 1917

Birthplace: Olean, New York, USA

Death: July 2, 2014, Los Angeles, California, USA (pneumonia)

C.J. Valleroy


Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA

Young Louis

Photo circa 1927

Alex Russell

Born: December 11, 1987


Queensland, Australia

Pete Zamperini

Born: May 24, 1915

Birthplace: Dunkirk, New York, USA

Death: May 15, 2008, San Clemente, California, USA

Miyavi (Takamasa Ishihara)

Born: September 14, 1981


Konohana-ku, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture, Japan

Mutsuhiro Watanabe (aka “The Bird”)

Born: circa 1918

Birthplace: Japan

Death: April 2003

Domhnall Gleeson

Born: May 12, 1983


Dublin, Ireland

Lt. Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips

Born: August 1, 1916

Birthplace: Greencastle, Indiana, USA

Death: December 18, 1998, Marietta, Georgia, USA

Finn Wittrock

Born: October 28, 1984


Lenox, Massachusetts, USA

SSgt. Francis “Mac” McNamara

Born: February 19, 1920

Birthplace: Pollagh County Mayo, Ireland

Death: June 30, 1943, Pacific Ocean (at sea) (starvation/dehydration)

Garrett Hedlund

Born: September 3, 1984


Roseau, Minnesota, USA

LtCdr. John Allison Fitzgerald

Born: May 16, 1908

Birthplace: California, USA

Death: July 6, 1990

Jai Courtney

Born: March 15, 1986


Sydney, Australia

1Lt. Charleton Hugh “Cup” Cuppernell

Birthplace: California, USA

Morgan Griffin

Born: June 4, 1992



Cynthia Applewhite

Born: January 20, 1926

Birthplace: USA

Death: February 21, 2001, Los Angeles, California, USA (cancer)

Yes. The Unbroken true story reveals that, like in the movie, the real Louis Zamperini had a knack for getting into trouble when he was growing up. Some of his early antics included jumping from the caboose of a train when his family was on their way to California. He also had a penchant for stealing and fighting. He started smoking at age five, picking up discarded cigarette butts while walking to kindergarten. He began drinking when he was eight, hiding under the dinner table sipping glasses of wine. -Unbroken book
His brother Pete thought that getting Louis involved in the high school track team would be a good way for him to embrace something other than mischief. “Pete told me I had to quit drinking and smoking if I wanted to do well,” Louis told Running Times Magazine, “and that I had to run, run, run.” Pete was already a star on the team. “I decided that summer to go all out. Overnight I became fanatical. I wouldn’t even have a milkshake.”

Yes. However, unlike the movie, Louie’s brother Pete told him this as they sat on their bed years earlier, not right before Louie left for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. Louie did remember Pete’s words during his race, which helped him to achieve the 56-second final lap in the men’s 5000-meter event. The book states the phrase as, “A lifetime of glory is worth a moment of pain.”

Yes. Our investigation into the Unbroken true story confirmed that, in an act of panic, tail gunner Francis “Mac” McNamara ate all of the chocolate bars (approximately 6) as the other men slept in the two rafts during the first night. This ruined Louie’s plan to allot each man one square of chocolate in the morning and one in the evening, which would last them a few days. Mac had been at his wits end the day before, and Louie had to slap him across the face with the back of his hand to stop him from wailing, “We’re going to die!” Louie was disappointed in Mac over the chocolate but figured they would be rescued soon anyway. -Unbroken book

Yes. “It’s weird,” said the real Louis Zamperini. “From the sky a thousand feet up, a raft looks like a whitecap, and they didn’t see us.” -CBN

After his plane went down in the Pacific Ocean on May 27, 1943, the real Louis Zamperini spent 47 days stranded at sea on the life raft. Like in the movie, tail gunner Francis McNamara survived 33 days on the raft, eventually succumbing to dehydration and starvation. Zamperini and pilot Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips were picked up by the Japanese on July 13, 1943 (approx.), just before reaching an atoll in the Marshall Islands. They had drifted approximately 2,000 miles. -Unbroken book

  Each day brings diversity

Yes. Starting the first day on the raft, sharks were a constant nuisance. They were so close at times that the men would only have to reach out their hands to touch them. Louie described them as varying between six feet and more than twenty feet long (the latter being a great white shark). The three men could feel tremors from the predators rubbing their backs along the bottom of the rafts. The sharks slapped the rafts with their tails, rammed into them, splashed water onto the men, and even jumped at them. The men smacked the sharks away with oars or their bare hands.
Like in the movie, they caught a small shark and killed it, cutting it open with the edge of a mirror and eating the liver for food (the only edible part). They were able to do this twice, after which no more small sharks came around. -Unbroken book

Yes. On their twenty-seventh day adrift, the three men were strafed several times by a Japanese bomber, which left dozens of bullet holes in the life rafts (they would later be told by the Japanese that this was impossible, as it was a violation of their military code of honor). Phil’s raft became unusable, and Louie cut up the canvas from it and used it for a canopy. The three men were then confined to the two-man raft they were able to patch. -Unbroken book

Yes. First he was declared missing at sea, and then on May 28, 1944, a year and a day after his plane crashed, he was mistakenly declared KIA (killed in action). The following month Louie’s parents received a death certificate signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“In grateful memory of First Lieutenant Louis S. Zamperini, A.S. No. 0-663341, who died in the service of his country in the Central Pacific Area, May 28, 1944. He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live, and grow, and increase its blessings. Freedom lives, and through it, he lives — in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men.” -The New York Times

Both Louis Zamperini and pilot Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips lost half their body weight or more. Prior to crashing at sea, Louie’s last recorded body weight was 155 pounds. Upon their capture by the Japanese, Louie weighed 67, 79.5, or 87 pounds, depending on the source. “When they first put us in a cell, I just looked down at my knees, my bones, and my skin, and I just started crying. Now, here I’m an athlete, I remember myself when I was a powerful, physical athlete, and now I’m just skin and bone and a skeleton, that’s all, and that brought tears to my eyes.” -60 Minutes

Yes. In a lot of ways, the real-life experiences were much worse. “The worst part I think about being in the cell was [Japanese] submarines,” Louie revealed in a CBN interview. “A submarine came in and of course, they never see prisoners. So, they can’t wait, so they line up in front of your cell, 75, 80 men lined up like going to a movie premiere. And every one of them is either swearing at ya, throwing rocks at ya, or jabbing ya with sticks, spitting on ya. You know, and here you are 65 pounds, you got constant diarrhea, your starved, they throw a rice ball, they don’t give it to ya. It falls on the floor. You have to spend hours picking up every grain of rice mixed in with the dirt. It just seemed like that line would never end.”
On three occasions, Louie was injected and used as a guinea pig for medical experiments. He had to describe to his captors what the injection was doing to his body. Louie said that he experienced dizziness and prickly spots all over his body. They only stopped when he told them that he was on the verge of passing out. -CBN

  Unbroken Part 5

Yes. Louis Zamperini met Corporal Mutsuhiro Watanabe (aka “The Bird”) at the Omori POW camp located on an island in Tokyo Bay. When Watanabe was transferred to Naoetsu, the most hellish POW camp in Japan, Louis Zamperini was eventually transferred there too as punishment for not doing the Radio Tokyo propaganda broadcast. Prison guard Mutsuhiro Watanabe was so relentless in his torture of the POWs that it left Louis with nightmares and constant dread.
“I wasn’t given military orders,” said the real Mutsuhiro Watanabe in a 1998 interview. “Because of my own personal feelings, I treated the prisoners strictly as enemies of Japan. Zamperini was well known to me. If he says he was beaten by Watanabe, then such a thing probably occurred at the camp, if you consider my personal feelings at the time.” -CBS Sports
Coming from a wealthy Japanese family of high pedigree, Corporal Watanabe, who had a privileged upbringing, felt humiliated and disgraced when his application to become an officer was rejected. This infuriated him and made him bitterly jealous of officers, including Louis Zamperini. It is believed that this was part of the reason for his cruelty. In 1945, Mutsuhiro Watanabe was ranked number 23 on General Douglas MacArthur’s list of the 40 most wanted war criminals in Japan. However, he went into hiding for seven years and never ended up being prosecuted. -Unbroken book

Yes. In the movie, Louie (Jack O’Connell) notices that Commander John Fitzgerald’s fingernails had been torn off. In real life, the Japanese clubbed Fitzgerald, stuck penknives under his fingernails, and tore his fingernails off. They also performed the “water cure” method of torture, whereby a prisoner is tipped backwards and water is poured up his nose as his mouth is held shut, causing him to eventually pass out. Like in the movie, Fitzgerald never gave up any information. -Unbroken book

Yes, and like in the Unbroken movie, Louie was trounced in his race against a Japanese runner who had been brought in to the camp. The guards mocked Louie and his own frailty scared him. However, this wasn’t his only race at the camp. The following spring a Japanese civilian was brought in and Louie beat him as his fellow captives cheered. He was clubbed in the head for winning but said it was worth it. He threw a third race against yet another Japanese runner, only after the runner told him in English that he wanted to impress his girlfriend who had come to watch. He promised Louie a rice ball and ended up giving him two. -Unbroken book

Yes, and like in the Unbroken movie, the true story confirms that this infuriated guard Mutsuhiro Watanabe (aka “The Bird”), who gave Louie daily beatings. Louie was eventually knocked down by The Bird, but only because, as depicted in the movie, The Bird cracked Louie so hard in the left temple with a belt buckle that Louie’s legs collapsed underneath him. The beatings left Louie deaf in his left ear for several weeks. -Unbroken book

Yes. As a punishment for stealing fish, Mutsuhiro Watanabe (aka “The Bird”) had the thieves and the officers, including Louis Zamperini, stand before the enlisted men, who took turns punching each thief and officer in the face (not just Zamperini). Any man who refused would suffer the same fate as the officers and thieves. The Bird reasoned that the officers should have had control of the men, therefore they should be punished too. -Unbroken book

Yes. First, Mutsuhiro Watanabe tried to pin a goat’s death on Louis Zamperini, then he set out to punish Louis for going to the camp doctor without permission for severe dysentery. He made Louis hold a six-foot long wooden beam above his head, telling another guard to hit Louis with his gun if he lowered his arms. This differs from the movie, which has Watanabe telling the guard to shoot Louis if he drops the beam. At first, Watanabe mocked Louis and laughed, but as time ticked by, he realized that his punishment had turned into a moment of defiance for Louis. After holding the beam aloft for 37 minutes, Watanabe charged Louis and punched him in the stomach. The beam fell and struck Louis in the head, momentarily knocking him out. This differs from the movie, in which Watanabe continues to beat Louis after the beam falls. -Unbroken book

  Louis Zamperini: Unbroken Hero and Olympic Athlete

Yes. Japanese nationalists were upset over the way Unbroken portrays the Japanese guards as being ruthless and abusive, saying, “This movie has no credibility and is immoral.” However, there is plenty of documentation and forensic evidence to back up the movie. Earlier this year, The Railway Man also depicted the horrors endured by POWs who were held by the Japanese, with one Japanese guard spending a lifetime atoning for his actions during WWII. -EW.com

No. The real Louis Zamperini was in Japan in 1998 to carry the Olympic torch in Nagano to celebrate the start of the Winter Games. He requested to meet with Mutsuhiro Watanabe (aka “The Bird”), but his former tormentor declined the meeting. Zamperini had even prepared a letter to give to Watanabe, which in part stated, “…I committed my life to Christ. Love replaced the hate I had for you. Christ said, ‘Forgive your enemies and pray for them.'” -Unbroken book
This outcome differs from British POW Eric Lomax’s story told in The Railway Man movie, which finds Lomax confronting his former Japanese tormentor years later. However, in that case, Lomax’s tormentor had already spent years atoning for his actions.

Dive deeper into the Unbroken true story with the interviews below, including a candid Louis Zamperini interview and a short documentary that features the rare Mutsuhiro Watanabe interview.


Louis Zamperini Interview

In this Louis Zamperini interview, the
Olympian/POW recalls meeting Adolf Hitler,
surviving at sea, and becoming a POW. The
interview follows the events in the movie.
Zamperini also discusses life after he
returned home, including turning to
drinking and discovering Christ, the
moment his ongoing nightmares of his
tormentor, the Bird, ended.


Mutsuhiro Watanabe Interview – The Bird

This CBS Sports documentary on
Louis Zamperini features the rare
Mutsuhiro Watanabe interview (aka “The
Bird”). It was produced by CBS
Sports as part of their coverage of
the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano,
Japan. Zamperini and his story are
featured first. The Bird interview starts
at the 30:20 mark.


Unbroken Olympics Featurette

During the 2014 Winter Olympics in
February, a special trailer for
Unbroken aired, which splices
together footage from the movie with
pictures and interview clips of the real
Olympian and prisoner of war survivor
Louis Zamperini. Director Angelina Jolie
is also featured.


Unbroken Trailer

Adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s book of
the same name and directed by Angelina
Jolie from a script by the Coen brothers,
Unbroken tells the story of
Olympian and WWII hero Louis “Louie”
Zamperini, whose B-24 suffered mechanical
difficulties and went down over the
Pacific Ocean, leaving him stranded at
sea. He was captured by the Japanese and
held in an internment camp until the end
of the war. Louis Zamperini died on July
2, 2014 at age 97.


Unbroken Trailer 2

This is the Unbroken Trailer 2
for the movie that chronicles the life of
Olympian and war hero Louis “Louie”
Zamperini (Jack O’Connell). Along with two
other crewmen, Zamperini survived in a
life raft for 47 days after a plane crash
in World War II—only to be picked up
by the Japanese Navy and put in a
prisoner-of-war camp.

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