Cornell-educated Taro Seki returns to Japan just as the war party gains control. He hopes to work for American engineer O'Hara, and falls for his secretary Tama, but he is drafted. War service in China finally hardens Taro to atrocities, and he returns to Japan a changed man. His father, now a cabinet minister, feels remorse at what war has done to his son and country, but too late to save Taro's foreign friends. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Unlike boilerplate propaganda films of WWII, this one has some complexity. I suspect Washington DC was smelling victory in 1943 and was correctly concerned with post-war occupation and how the American public would react. Thus, as other reviewers point out, the enemy is depicted as Japan's medieval warrior society and not the Japanese people as a people. The movie's propaganda aspects center on familiar stereotypes (cruel soldiers and inhumane policies), but more importantly, these ugly aspects are also portrayed as the result of a conditioning process (Taro), and not the result of some genetic, sub-human flaw as in typical propaganda films of the time.
This distinction opens the possibility that a reformed social order with better values and socializing process can produce a more modern and democratic people better attuned to Western ideals (Tama, Reo, & the early Taro). The end result thus suggests that the Japanese people may be human after all, yet suffering from what may be termed a "social disorder"-- A disorder that a good dose of American-style democracy can remedy under an astute post- war occupation regime, such as Gen. MacArthur's turned out to be. Now, no matter how self- congratulatory these political assumptions may be, the result turns out to be shrewdly visionary in an historical sense.
Of course, this is a pretty heavy load for what is essentially an RKO programmer. Nonetheless, the subtext plays out in a screenplay more shaded than most. I suspect audiences expecting something more typically simplistic were a bit put off by the ambiguities. Still and all, there are familiar American stereotypes to anchor the audiencethe good-hearted Irishman (O'Hara), the competitive sportsman (Lefty), and the enterprising reporter (Sara). Revealingly, they're shown as getting along quite well with those liberally minded Japanese who will share power during the post-war period.
This mixture of crude stereotype along with the more subtle humanizing aspect creates a rather awkward combination that doesn't work very well for the movie as a whole. Perhaps this is why the film remains pretty obscure in movie annals. Nonetheless, two episodes remain memorable for me. It's easy to overlook architect O'Hara's passing observation about sturdy Western construction materials. These, he points out, can withstand natural calamities that Pacific islands are prone to, such as earthquakes and floods, better than traditional, less substantial, Japanese materials. To me, this illustrates the potentials of a genuinely cooperative internationalism outside this particular one-sided context. Also, the central action scene of a gangly American boxer (Ryan) vs. a Japanese martial arts expert (Mazurki) may not be very convincing, but it certainly is eye-catching.
Now, I'm in no position to judge the historical accuracy of the events depicted here and claimed as fact-based by the prologue. Nonetheless, the movie remains an interesting one for its generally humane message in a time of real war.
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