No pre-conceptions, judgement on merit and a positive attitude are three traits for reviewing films and so I followed that philosophy as I sat down to watch this old black and white film about exposing the Japanese government’s plan for world domination. Well I’d like to say that was the case but it’s no lie that I wasn’t too excited about having to watch this as I find it difficult to get into such old movies.
This film may have been produced in 1945 but the story actually begins in 1929 with an alleged Japanese conspiracy against the U.S. in the pre-war period. It’s all based on a fictional history behind the Tanaka Memorial document; a Japanese plan to conquer the world as devised by Baron Giichi Tanaka.
Warning: Contains spoilers!
These plans are published in the Tokyo Chronicle which protagonist Nick Condon (James Cagney) works for. The Japanese secret police visit the newspaper’s headquarters and interrogate Condon about the source but he refuses to divulge anything. This leaves him curious as to why they are so desperate to know such information. Subsequently he puts colleague Ollie Miller in charge of further researching the plan.
Action and intrigue supposedly follows according to the blurb but that doesn’t seem to account for that fact that there is very little action beyond a few poorly choreographed martial arts scenes. A little strange perhaps given that Cagney was renowned for his roles as multifaceted tough guys due to his amateur boxing background.
Instead it seems to play out more like a think-piece on Asian politics and does come across as a mix of anti-Japanese propaganda and Americans always playing fairly by the rules. There is a distinctly anti-Japanese sentiment to the storyline as Condon fights against the undemocratic rules of Japan in the 1940s with the secret police constantly breathing down his neck.
When Ollie and his wife Edith later make plans to leave Japan by ship they are killed separately by the secret police but not before the former manages to give Condon a copy of the secret plans which he hides behind a picture of Emperor Hirohito knowing that the police will not search the revered portrait. They supposedly ransack Condon’s apartment but in reality it really is the quickest and loosest of property searches.
The words “set in Japan” really are exemplified in ‘Blood On The Sun‘ as it was all shot back in the Hollywood studios. By all accounts the newspaper office and the hara-kiri (suicide) shrine appear to be quite accurate but it really is difficult to tell at times due to the cheap-looking sets and the fact that it’s a black and white film.
Given the era, it is perhaps no surprise that leading lady Sylvia Sidney’s role as the mysterious half-Chinese double agent Iris Hilliard is underused. She is there to add some intrigue in the friction between China and Japan whilst providing a romantic interest for Cagney in a slightly unconvincing fashion.
In a film with no outstanding acting performances it is perhaps no surprise that the supporting cast is quite disappointing as it consists of caricatures and stereotypes for the most part. I’m sure I use the phrase “…of it’s time” in most reviews of films from yesteryear and that is not going to be any different here as the Asian characters are mostly portrayed by white Americans.
The script is rather muddled and confusing with the result being an non-captivating storyline. It is supposedly riddled with some quite glaring political and time-line errors and my rather biased preconceptions beforehand were possibly justified as I struggled to really get to grips with the so-called plot of this espionage story. The most interesting and profound thing about this 93 minute film is probably the closing line “Forgive your enemies, but first get even.”
Tokyo Fox Rating 3/10
Filmed on a US backlot too.
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