Earlier this year the full 2 hour, 54 minute uncut version of 5000km to Glory was aired on Japanese TV for the first time. The 1969 film, an octane-filled tale of motorsports, honor, and heroic driving was tops at the Japanese box office the year of its release. Most astoundingly, a central plot point revolved around a Datsun 510 winning the Safari Rally a year before it actually happened at the 1970 running of the event.
Called Safari 5000 in some countries, the story follows Takayuki Godai (Yujiro Ishihara, whom you might recognize as the station chief in Seibu Keisatsu), a race car driver tormented by the death of his navigator in a snowy rockslide during the Monte Carlo Rally. Also playing a prominent role is Toshiro Mifune (of Seven Samurai fame) as Nissan Motor Co.’s Managing Director. As a result of the tragedy, Godai’s crew is disbanded and his teammate, a Frenchman named Pierre, goes his own way.
In an effort to redeem himself, Godai then enters the 1969 Japan Grand Prix. Amazingly, producers used footage of an actual race, the 1969 Fuji Speed Cup, to tell the story. Other scenes were filmed at Nissan’s Murayama test course. Actual Nissan works drivers such as Takahashi Kunimitsu, Moto Kitano and Masahiro Hasemi were credited in the cast.
Godai, charging ahead of the pack in his Nissan R381, appears to be on the brink of redemption as he’s about to win the race. However, in a photo finish it is his former teammate Pierre who takes the checkered flag.
Godai’s last chance at glory comes in the form of the Safari Rally, where he must catch Pierre over 5000km of brutal African desert. A mighty struggle ensues. Once again, producers went to the actual race to capture footage, and went so far as to enter Ishihara into the competition itself. The fictional name “Godai Takayuki” is even listed in the official results of the 1969 Safari Rally! Racing under the company “Ishihara International Productions” the 510 placed a DNF, but in the film Godai finally catches Pierre at the final stage. Incidentally, a real Nissan works 510 placed as high as third that year.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ishihara Promotions, 5000km to Glory was finally released on DVD in 2013. The trailer above is from a box set that includes several other Ishihara films. 5000km to Glory‘s begins at the 1:20 mark.