BEHIND THE RISING SUN (aka: The Mad Brood of Japan)

(director: Edward Dmytryk; screenwriters: from the novel by James R. Young/Emmet Lavery; cinematographer: Russell Metty; editor: Joseph Noriega; music: Roy Webb; cast: Margo (Tama Shimamura), Tom Neal (Taro Seki), J. Carrol Naish (Reo Seki), Robert Ryan (Lefty O’Doyle), Gloria Holden (Sara Braden), Don Douglas (Clancy O’Hara), George Givot (Boris), Adeline De Walt Reynolds (Grandmother), Mike Mazurki (wrestler); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Howard Hughes; RKO; 1943)

“Ridiculous wartime propaganda film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Ridiculous wartime propaganda film that’s primed to raise the juices of the American public. It’s based on real incidents (the racism displayed by the Japanese against the Chinese and other foreigners is historically correct, even though filmed here in a clumsy way) but the characters are all fictional. Director Edward Dmytryk (“Tender Comrade”/”Back to Bataan”/”Murder, My Sweet”) and writer Emmet Lavery, soon after collaborating on Hitler’s Children (1943), a gaudy low-budget exploitation film on the Hitler Youth program, made this second very profitable flag-waver on the evil Japanese.

The film is told in flashback from 1943, in the middle of WW2, as respected elitist Japanese newspaper publisher Reo Seki (J. Carrol Naish) receives the ashes of his dead soon Taro (Tom Neal) and blames himself for the tragedy that has come to his family. The flashback begins in 1936 when Reo welcomes back from America his beloved son Taro, who graduated as an engineer from Cornell and is filled with love for America; he wishes to work in Tokyo for the great American engineer O’Hara (Don Douglas), but his father disapproves becomes of the nationalist fervor sweeping Japan and the hatred of foreigners as evidenced by the Chinese slaughtered in the street. Reo believes in the divine inspiration of the emperor and proudly states that one day Japan will rule the world. Taro rebels and takes the job with O’Hara, and begins a romance with the sweet American loving Japanese receptionist Tama (Margo). The Americans economically helped the lower-class Tama’s poor rural village that was hit by an earthquake and paid for her education. Their marriage is blocked by Reo, who refuses to give his permission because of class differences. Soon Japan goes to war with China and Taro is drafted to work as an engineer in China. Some time later American newspaper reporter Sara (Gloria Holden), a longtime girlfriend of O’Hara’s, meets Taro in Peking. She finds the once sensitive Taro she knew in Tokyo to no longer be such a person, as he’s become insensitive to the brutal treatment of the Japanese soldiers against the Chinese people and goes along with their program of torture. Meanwhile, Taro’s grandmother (Adeline De Walt Reynolds) talks his father into agreeing to the marriage on the condition that Tama agree to be adopted by an upper class family. The family is now fully behind the war, as Reo has been just appointed the new Minister of Propaganda. Things get dicey at O’Hara’s engineering office when an irate Sara accuses Taro of murdering children. To protect his honor, a boxing match is arranged between the American baseball coach in Japan Lefty O’Doyle (Robert Ryan) and a Japanese judo wrestler (Mike Mazurki). Lefty knocks out the wrestler. Reo seeks out O’Hara to apologize for his son’s rudeness and warns him that war between America and Japan is inevitable, and it would be best for him to leave for home. Later Taro and Tama visit her family in the country and learn her little sister was sold into slavery. Tama wants Taro to buy her back, but he coldly says it’s for a “noble sacrifice.” Since Pearl Harbor just happened, the couple go their separate ways: Taro rejoins his air corps regiment, while Tama begins a futile search for her sister. Sara, O’Hara and Lefty are arrested as spies, and Tama is tortured to testify against them. Taro when he returns to Tokyo a year later, denounces his former American friends as spies. This upsets Reo, but his son rebuffs him. Soon after there’s an American bombing raid on Tokyo and Taro’s plane is hit, and he dies. This brings us back to the opening, as Reo repudiates the emperor and then commits hara-kiri in hopes that his death will bring the Japanese people back to their senses.

The incidents that were supposedly true include: the American female reporter slapped by a Japanese soldier, the distribution of opium to the Chinese to keep them docile, and some ten other incidents calculated to bring out the patriotism in the American viewer. These exploitation devises worked, as the calculated film built on an unoriginal plot turned in a healthy $5 million profit.

Behind the Rising Sun (1943)