moirafinnie wrote:Here's what I wrote in 2007* about this film when I first encountered it, if you are interested:
Thank you, Ms Finnie, for sharing that post! I enjoyed reading your thoughts and I completely agree about how Colbert really carried this role and made it so believable (all issues of her hair, not withstanding, ha) That attack scene you mentioned (perhaps the very one where she was injured, as you mentioned) was horrifying and quite intense. And it was a very "modern" for a scene depicting that sort of attack in a movie made so long ago (at least for most films dealing with that subject back then) Generally, those sorts of scenes in movies from that era did not often show the women being tossed and battered around so much.. usually a slap.. or a push.. but that was a literal knock down dragout (as my old grandma would say) Very graphic and riveting scene. And even the later scene.. where she is interrogated (in their attempt to get her to change her story) was, I thought, very graphic too.. even though the kick she sustained did seem a bit "light footed'. The fact that they even SHOWED her getting kicked was to me.. very brutal for a scene involving a woman in a movie from that time. Wowsa.
This subtlety was enhanced by the choice of a fine actor, Sessue Hayakawa, for the central role of a Japanese colonel who forms a tenuous bond with Colbert based on her authorship of a Hayakawa shines in two scenes toward the end of the film. In the first, he tells Colbert about the tragic effect of the war on his family and in the second he hosts some starving children from the prison camp at a lunch at his home. I think that given the remarkably brutal record of wartime treatment of allied prisoners and the closeness of the end of the war to the production of this movie, it is noteworthy that there is such a concerted effort to depict the Japanese in their full, flawed humanity
I loved Hayakawa's performance. He was so very intriguing.. quite human.. and yet STILL very sinister, all at the same time. It really was a well-played character for him. You can even (almost) get a sense of the "man who would be Col. Saito" (ha) in Col Suga because even though he is not so "hard nosed as Saito was in Bridge on the River Kwai.. he still had a brutal and harsher side. Oh sure.. not on the surface.. he just hid it very well. In fact.. in some ways, that makes him seem (to me, anyway) almost worse. In reality.. for most of the film, at least to me.. he comes off arrogant, prideful, and quite cruel.
And I say that because of his overall lack of concern for the suffering he is causing to his prisoners.. not a camp full of soldiers, used to hardened battle and fighting for their survivial, but instead.. a bunch of innocent women and children. It is displayed in his purposeful and wilfull "ignorance" of their plight. He had NO taste for the evils that were being perpetrated at his hand.. and yet he was in charge of carrying them out. So he rises above all the horrors they endure.. and the suffering by refusing to acknowledge it. I am not even sure if he is doing it for himself (to ignore what his REAL job description is) or if he is doing it to add to their suffering.. by forcing them ignore their own plight by "pretending" to not be in agony while they are suffering. Either way, it is quite sinister.. him with his politeness and his "oh so kind" manners and speech. It is almost like he dares them to acknowledge they are suffering... knowing full well the penalty they will pay if they complain. Instead of looking them "in the eye" and seeing what he has brought about. He makes his required visits, dusts off his hands... and drives away, leaving others to do the dirty work to keep the women in line.
The fact that Suga knew who Agnes was, and appreciated her writing, was the only thing that kept her from being treated as badly as everyone else (when he was around at least) And it was obvious that when he wasn't around she WAS treated as badly. But when he was there.. he liked to use her to "imagine away" the obvious by "holding court" with a "semi-celebrity". It was even a matter of pride for him that HE knew who she was (and appreciated it) even if the lower minded prison guards and soldiers did not. He was above all the "dirty work" of handling and dealing with the prisioners. He was so above them in fact, his workers made sure to tell Agnes to "put on a dress" when she went to see him. She couldn't POSSIBLY look like she was suffering.. that would put him in mind of how badly they were all being treated.
And the fact that she dared admit that she'd been attacked put him in an awkward position. By her bringing "reality" into their relationship.. he was forced to deal with it.. and yet he STILL ended up turning it over to his henchman to "deal" with it.. at least in terms of making it go away. I am sure he knew how she would be treated the minute he walked out that door... and yet, he walked out the door. In fact, the one I REALLY felt bad for (aside from Agnes) was that officer that kept having to turn his back and look out the window. At least HE seemed genuinely sorry that she was being beat up. You could see the distaste for her mistreatment on his face.. But Suga.. he did not even have it in him to SHOW his face while the punishment was being doled out. I say again.. arrogant.. and prideful.. and cruel. No matter HOW polite he seemed.
And yet.. despite all that, despite all the negative "press" I have given him here, ha.. you also see Col Suga's humanity. He IS a real person under all that kind polite demeanor after all.. and the war has taken its toll on HIM too. You see it in the way he handles the loss of his family. And when you do finally see him with is "polite guard" down... it is utterly HEARTBREAKING.
Because no matter what his position in the Japanese military might have been.. no matter WHAT sort of job he may have had and what sort of orders he gave for others to carry out, he was also a husband,and also a father, who must have surely loved HIS family, the same way the British prisoners loved theirs. Death of a loved one can often be the great "equalizer" of human emotions.. even in war time. And you can't help but feel heartbroken on his behalf as you see him in anguish while he watches those children eating at his table. It was a very moving moment, to be sure. A very fine performance from Hayakawa, indeed.
Goodness me.. listen to me blab on and on..ha. I apologize for being a bit long winded. But before I quit, I wanted to mention too, that in some ways this film reminded me (at least in a small way) of a more "modern" film that I like very much, Empire of the Sun. That has been a long-time favorite movie for me, and even though these two stories and their emphasis are completely different (in that TCH centers around a woman and her fight to keep herself and her son alive, while the other story is more about a young boy, forced to grow up in a similar camp.. and endure the deepest depths of human tragedy as he grows up learning that "people will do anything for a potato") I could still see many similarities in the two stories as well. (there are even a few scenes In EOTS that I found VERY similar in TCH.. in terms of how they are constructed and what they depict. I almost wonder if Steven Spielberg had this story in mind when he filmed them)
At any rate, I just want to say thanks again, for pointing this film out to me. I am sure I will be thinking of it and mulling it over in my mind for quite some time. The emotions of this story really got ahold of me (as far as what it must have been like to be seperated from your family.. not knowing what is happening.. and whether any of you will live or die) Very gripping and though-provoking. It truly was a very good story and I am glad to have caught it.