Ana-ta-han (1953)
"Anatahan" (original title)

Approved  |   |  Drama, War  |  17 May 1954 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.5/10 from 405 users  
Reviews: 9 user | 10 critic

Josef von Sternberg directed, photographed, provides the voice-over narration and wrote the screenplay (from a based-on-actual event novel by Michiro Maruyana translated by Younghill Kang) ... See full summary »


(novel), (novel), 2 more credits »
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1 nomination. See more awards »
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Cast overview:
Akemi Negishi ...
Keiko Kusakabe, the 'Queen Bee'
Tadashi Suganuma ...
Kusakabe, Husband of Keiko (as Suganuma)
Kisaburo Sawamura ...
Kuroda (as Sawamura)
Shôji Nakayama ...
Nishio (as Nakayama)
Jun Fujikawa ...
Yoshisato (as Fujikawa)
Hiroshi Kondô ...
Yanaginuma (as Kondo)
Shozo Miyashita ...
Sennami (as Miyashita)
Tsuruemon Bando ...
Doi (as Tsuruemon)
Kikuji Onoe ...
Kaneda (as Kikuji)
Rokuriro Kineya ...
Marui (as Rokuriro)
Daijiro Tamura ...
Kanzaki (as Tamura)
Chizuru Kitagawa ...
(as Kitagawa)
Takeshi Suzuki ...
Takahashi (as Suzuki)
Shiro Amikura ...
Amanuma (as Amikura)


Josef von Sternberg directed, photographed, provides the voice-over narration and wrote the screenplay (from a based-on-actual event novel by Michiro Maruyana translated by Younghill Kang) about twelve Japanese seaman who, in June 1944, are stranded on an abandoned-and-forgotten island called An-ta-han for seven years. The island's only inhabitants are the overseer of the abandoned plantation and an attractive young Japanese woman. Discipline is represented by a former warrant officer but ends when he suffers a loss-of-face catastrophe. Soon, discipline and rationality are replaced by a struggle for power and the woman. Power is represented by a pair of pistols found in the wreckage of an American airplane, so important that five men pay for their lives in a bid for supremacy. Written by Les Adams <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | War


Approved | See all certifications »





Release Date:

17 May 1954 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Ana-ta-han  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


| (Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente)

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Sound System)|

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Narrator: It is easy to see what others do; we carry no mirror to reflect our own actions.
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Featured in Hollywood Mavericks (1990) See more »

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User Reviews

THE SAGA OF ANATAHAN (Josef von Sternberg, 1953) ***1/2
27 November 2011 | by (Naxxar, Malta) – See all my reviews

Sternberg's famous swan-song (at the time of writing his equally notable autobiography in 1965, he had hoped to direct again but died 4 years later!) was considered a rarity until a few years back: in fact, I first watched snippets from it as a kid in the 1990 documentary Hollywood MAVERICKS on local TV; then, it eventually turned up on late-night Italian TV. I later acquired a low-grade and problematic copy of it but subsequently upgraded to a serviceable one, albeit still plagued by the occasional audio drop-out and accompanied by forced French subtitles!

Disillusioned with Hollywood by this time, Sternberg tried his luck abroad and, while he described the circumstances of shooting this one as ideal (in that he was free to exercise his well-documented autocracy!) in his autobiography, it was far from easy since the film was directed through interpreters and sometimes had to resort to storyboards in order to get across what was required of cast and crew! Sternberg writes bemusedly about the complexity of the Japanese language, the hiring of a kabuki actor for one of the main roles and his being gradually seen by all and sundry as a father-figure (being even asked by her family to protect the virtue of the virginal{!} leading lady). In any case, it is interesting that, being set and shot in Japan, this came at a time when that country's cinema was enjoying world-wide recognition largely through the works of Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi.

Incidentally, though the film features Japanese dialogue throughout, this is not translated into English – instead, we get the writer-director himself supplying intermittent commentary to expound on the action! Even so, this and the ghostly parade of victims at the finale constitute the only stylistic flourishes within the film. Indeed, the picture is unusually stark for Sternberg – treated almost like a documentary, with superimposed dates indicating the passage of time, and utilizing stock footage of returning Japanese WWII veterans. Opting as always to shoot entirely within the controlled environment of a studio, he took his traditional artificiality to new levels – with sets and props sometimes being no more than just drawings (including the titular Pacific island!) and deploying copious lighting equipment, given that most of the proceedings occur in the daytime!!

With this in mind, the premise is simple enough: at the tail-end of WWII, the crew of a sunken ship are stranded on an apparently uninhabited island in the Philippines; however, it transpires that a couple are living on it and, soon, the battle-weary and sex-starved soldiers begin to disobey the orders of their commanding officer (who insists they keep vigilance over potential attack by the enemy and in the hope of spotting a salvage vessel) and contend over the sole female presence, a vixen-ish girl who actively encourages their attentions despite the stern monitoring of her consort! In this respect, the film anticipates the likes of Seth Holt's STATION SIX SAHARA (1962), Edgar G. Ulmer's THE CAVERN (1964; the last effort by this cult figure, too) and John Derek's ONCE BEFORE I DIE (1965), all of which dealt with a similar situation of one-woman-to-several-men in already-sticky surroundings – for the record, I recently watched the first of these but, while I own the others as well, I still need to check them out. Still, inspired as it was by a true story, there were some initial protests that such a sensitive Japanese story was to be told by a foreigner (even if his work was well-known); in retrospect, its people are depicted in reasonably realistic fashion – so much so that it would later become a clichéd view! – as honorable citizens, prone to making merry but also driven by lust.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the film was badly received in Japan but, then, it ended up being overlooked everywhere else as well (dismissed as an eccentric foot-note to a great directorial career)…except in France, with the glowing "Cahiers Du Cinema" assessment being reprinted in full in Sternberg's memoirs! Personally, I feel that its dramatic and artistic power are undeniable and, after all this time, still very much undiminished. The last word, however, goes to the director who unreservedly called it "my best film" and one that he believed ahead of its time, especially in the way it attempted to make cinema patrons reflect beyond what was on the screen.

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