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Josef von Sternberg
Charles K. French
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 <email@example.com>
This film actually had a run in Paris outside the Cinematheque and it attracted considerable attention. It's an audacious,in-your-face sort of quirky film that works on many levels. Sterberg's autobiography "Fun in a Chinese Laundry" spells out some of techniques he employed but the film needs to be experienced beyond a mere description. It was shot in an airplane hangar to begin with, with all the tinsel and tin foil representing an island jungle. The limited number of players (all non-professional) and space (on an island) make this more of a chamber work rather than the Hollywood cast of thousands and its subdued drama will disappoint some who want things to be more explicit. It's purely artificial and looks that way deliberately. The film is in Japanese without subtitles and the narrator in English is none other than Sternberg himself. He warns the audience of what will happen BEFORE it happens, thus leaving us free to discover the camera-work, the scenery and the atmosphere minus the drama. Drama there is, of course, but detached from what's happening on screen. Everything in the film - minus the very last shot, alas - is artificial, dream-like and absolutely fascinating. What a remarkable end to a remarkable career. I highly recommend it although I wouldn't know how to find it. Good luck!
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