Who was Jimmie Sasaki in Unbroken? What role did he play in the story and in Louis Zamperini’s life?
Jimmie Sasaki was a Japanese military official and spy, who Louis Zamperini knew from college. Strangely, Louis encountered Jimmie Sasaki again when he was captured by the Japanese during World War II.
Jimmie Sasaki and Louie Zamperini’s Unlikely Friendship
Back from the Olympics, Louie began his career as a member of an elite track team at USC. One of his best friends was a sprinter named Payton Jordan, who also had his sights set on the 1940 Tokyo Olympics. Louie also befriended a Japanese student, Kunichi James “Jimmie” Sasaki, who hung around some of the track guys. Jimmie Sasaki was older, quiet, observant, and amicable. He said he had degrees from several Ivy League schools.
Jimmie and Louie shared similar tastes for music and athletics and became close. They also shared a common interest in the town of Torrance. Jimmie said he visited Torrance often to lecture about Japanese heritage to the local Japanese residents. Louie thought it was weird, knowing there weren’t a lot of Japanese in Torrance, but he admired Jimmie’s efforts.
It would be years before Jimmie Sasaki was outed as a fraud. He’d never attended any of the Ivy League schools he claimed to have graduated from, and he was actually closer to forty than thirty, the age he’d told Louie he was. Jimmie had a wife and children and wasn’t even a student at USC. He’d graduated a decade earlier with a degree in political science. Although Louie couldn’t have known it at the time, he’d encounter Jimmie later in life, under very different circumstances.
America Goes to War
Around the time that Louie started his training in Houston, the U.S. government, aided by the FBI, received word that Jimmie Sasaki was working as a spy for Japanese intelligence. His trips to Torrance had actually been visits to a large transmitter used to send information to the Japanese. Whether Jimmie was involved in the events that unfolded one morning in December is unclear, but it didn’t matter. The damage would be done regardless.
Before dawn on December 7, 1941, a Japanese pilot named Mitsuo Fuchida flew a small aircraft over Oahu scoping the strength of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. He spotted eight battleships off the coast and signaled to his comrades. Within minutes, 180 Japanese bombers came up behind him and began the assault on Oahu. This was the first wave of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
After journeying for three weeks by ship, Louie and Phil were dropped off at Ofuna, a secret POW camp in Japan. When they arrived, Louie was granted the first bath he’d had since leaving Hawaii, then led to a room where his USC buddy Jimmie Sasaki was seated.
Louie was never privy to the suspicions and investigations surrounding Jimmie back home, so he was dumbfounded to see this man at a prison camp. They spoke for a long time, with Jimmie mostly reminiscing about their days at USC or bragging about his high-ranking position in the Japanese military. Louie thought Jimmie had been the one to authorize his stay of execution and expected something to happen after seeing him, but nothing did. Louie was taken out of the room and into the yard where he met 200 fellow prisoners.
The men at Ofuna were emaciated and made to starve while guards pilfered the food shipments. Rations consisted of putrid broth and contaminated rice, neither of which had any nutritional value. Dysentery was rampant, and Louie grew so thin, he could barely stand. He thought Jimmie, who visited often, would help him, but all Jimmie ever did was talk about USC. If it wasn’t for the help of two kitchen aids, who slipped Louie extra balls of rice, he likely wouldn’t have survived.
It’s clear from the story that Jimmie Sasaki was no friend of Louis Zamperini’s. However, he does play a unique role in the story and an undeniably important role in Louis’s life and the war.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Unbroken summary:
- How Louie Zamperini was on track to become an Olympic athlete until the war started
- The unbelievable story of his capture as a prisoner of war
- The ultimate fate of Louie and his captors