Saturday, February 18, 2012

#418: Anatahan

1953, TSPDT Rank #696

This is the sixth and final film of my Josef von Sternberg marathon.

The last film Josef von Sternberg completed, which he continued to work on re-editing after its release in 1953, eventually abandoning the project in 1958, is definitely a strange final entry in his filmography. After being released from his contract to Howard Hughes, Sternberg made this film, about Japanese soldiers holding the Pacific island of Anatahan for seven years after World War II had ended, in Japan, with a Japanese crew, and completely outside of the Hollywood studio system, which had found little use for him since Marlene Dietrich ceased to star in his films anymore. Instead of having the story told with Japanese dialogue and released with dialogue, the actors have only minimal amounts of dialogue, which is explained, along with the story, by Sternberg himself, who narrates in English for the entire duration of the film. Sternberg seems to use the framework the plot gives in order to reflect on the duality of human nature - civilization and savagery, friend and foe, heroism and denial, life and death - which is clearly evident in the film's lyrical and often symmetrical cinematography and thoughtful commentary on the action taking place. The film is sometimes marred by being repetitive, by the plentiful plot inconsistencies, or by the contradictory explanations given through the narration, but ultimately turns out being somewhat more than the sum of its parts, rather than an incoherent mess. Not the best of Josef von Sternberg's, but as a final statement, this existential war drama works quite well (especially considering the difficulties of making a film in a foreign land with a crew of foreign people), and is also interesting as a rare look at Japanese soldiers from an American's point of view.

(Rating: 7/10)

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