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Friday, August 04, 2017


Here's a cinematic curiosity. Anatahan, written and directed by Josef Von Sternberg (it was his last film), is a film set on a small island in the Marianas chain. I had been reading a book that mentioned Japanese soldiers who remained on islands not knowing the war was over (one did on Guam until 1972) and that reminded me that I had this film on my watch list on Amazon Prime.

The film was released in 1953, and has an all-Japanese cast. What's curious is that they are not subtitled, nor even dubbed. They play the scenes in their native language, and an English-speaking narrator (Von Sternberg himself) describes what's going on. It's disconcerting at first, but you get used to it.

Basically Anatahan is a kind of Lord of the Flies set after World War II. About a dozen sailors are shipwrecked on the island after being sunk by an American plane. They find two people living there--a man and a woman. They assume they are married (they are not), and after years of being marooned, power struggles develop.

The officer in charge tries to keep military discipline. He rails at the men for drinking coconut wine and lusting after the woman. He is vigilant at a machine gun they brought to shore, waiting for the enemy to attack. Eventually the men realize he has no power anymore, and he loses face.

Then there is the desire for the woman. The film is ambiguous about what goes on, but it appears that she remains celibate throughout the ordeal (although she is shown nude, bathing). Two of the men find guns in the wreckage of an American plane, and use that for power. In turn, several of the men assert their dominion but they end up planted in the ground.

Anatahan is an interesting commentary both on the Japanese bushido code and on civilization itself. I must say that I would assume in most cases men would not be so polite and pass the woman around like a bowl of mashed potatoes, but perhaps the male instinct of being king would create a situation like this.

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