This had been a holy grail film for me for many years, mostly from
reading Jonathan Rosenbaum's descriptions of it....sounded like a truly
sui generis film, a soldiers-stranded-on-island and reverting to
barbarism story told entirely with quite artificial-looking sets and
unsubtitled dialogue, with the director narrating...a completely
noncommercial film from a frustrated, bitter middle-aged director tired
of fighting the studio bigwigs, determined to make a truly personal
film whatever the cost.
I finally located a pretty decent VHS copy a few months ago and watched it last night, and I must say it equalled or even exceeded by expectations -- this really is a film experience like nothing else out there. The photography and sound, even on a somewhat soft and fuzzy VHS, are just stunning -- the sound design in particular is worthy of Lynch, and really the film as a whole is one of the weirdest American features to be released before Eraserhead. Sternberg's narration interacts in all kinds of ways with the action on screen, sometimes anticipating events, sometimes contradicting what we see, sometimes questioning...the hermetic world created on the sound-stage is obviously unreal, and yet the lush beauty of the photography and sets creates a unique otherworld as powerful as anything in the massive-budgeted 'scope spectacles that would be Hollywood's bread-and-butter for the next decade. It's as if Sternberg knew where American film was headed, and told us he could do something much more interesting at a fraction the price.
And if all of this makes the film sound like an arid exercise in technique and style -- fear not -- the ending, with the island's sole woman reflecting back on the several men who met their deaths as the result of their fighting over her, is powerfully emotional and resonant.
I'm not sure my comments are at all meaningful, this is a hard film to wrap my head around...suffice it to say I recommend it as strongly as possible to those that can find it.
Drama / War
Drama / War
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.
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