Behind the Rising Sun (1943) 




Director:     Edward Demytryk. 

Starring:     Margo (Tama Shimamura),  Tom Neal (Taro Seki),  J. Carrol Naish (Reo Seki),  Robert Ryan (Lefty O'Doyle),  Gloria Holden (Sara Braden),  Donald Douglas (Clancy O'Hara),  George Givot (Boris),  Adeline De Walt Reynolds (Grandmother),  Leonard Strong (Tama's Father). 

triumph of fascism over liberalism in Japan and a Japanese father wants his Americanized son to be part of the Sino-Japanese War


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"This is a true-to-life story of Japan.  The characters are imaginary but the incidents are real.  The episodes are based on actual facts, verified and authenticated."

The relatives of the war dead are handed out the ashes of their loved ones.  Reo Seki receives the ashes of his son Taro Seki.  Reo thinks back about what happened to him and his son that brought them to this.  So he writes a letter to his son explaining just what did happen to them.  He writes that his and his son's fates were written in the streets of Tokyo in 1936.  They had no part in the military uprising.  His son had not yet returned from America and he was safe at home.

But not far from the city was a friend who was not so safe, namely Mr. Takahashi, the last liberal in Japan.  And on that morning he stood alone.  The military of the uprising comes to his house.  They kill the guard at his front door.  Takahashi asks the officer what will be his pleasure?  He answers:  "Our pleasure it that you should die!"  You must die, the officer says, because Sato Watanabe Matsuo also died tonight.  And it's death to all foreigners and you are now a foreigner.  The officer takes out his Samurai sword and kills the liberal.  Reo Seki writes that the whole nation mourned for Takahashi.  But the uprising continued anyway.

The day Takahashi died, was the day Taro Seki returned from America.  Dad had not seen his son for a long time.  Taro had been studying at Cornel University in New York State.  Fresh from the States, Taro acts very much like an American.  He has to be reminded to take off his shoes before entering their home.  He greets his grandmother too casually and has to be reminded how to act.  They have dinner together with lots of guests.  One guest toasts to the Emperor and the family! 

Taro studied engineering at Cornell and he wants to be an engineer in Japan.  So he goes to the best engineer, which is an Irish-American named O'Hara.  O'Hara tells him he was expecting him because he received some letters of recommendation for him.  O'Hara has been in Japan for twenty years and is considered the best engineer in the country.  His secretary is named Tama Shimamura.  He is highly laudatory of her abilities.

Boris, a Russian newspaperman, speaks with Reo Seki.  He says that the forces behind the military knocked off Prime Minister Ohara in 1921, Prime Minister Yamaguchi in 1930 and in 1932, Enui, Berendian and Inoki.  And in 1936 it's been Watanabe, Saito and Takahashi.  All the assassinated politicians were liberals.  Boris asks Reo if he is afraid that maybe he will be next.  No, he is not concerned.  He says, there is always an Emperor.  In fact, the Emperor is setting up a special court-martial for all the leaders of the uprising.  And Reo stands with the Emperor and the Army. 

Reo speaks to his son and tells him that the Japanese will control the world.  And he wants his son to be something more than just an engineer. 

Sara Braden, a newswoman working in China, comes to see O'Hara who is at the bar with some of the boys, including Taro.  She tells O'Hara that she wants him to marry her.  O'Hara seems a bit nervous about the idea.  Sara is also concerned about the fate of China.  The German Max says that Japan has no designs on China, but Sara doubts that.  Sara tells O'Hara that she is not joking about marriage.  So O'Hara rushes off with the boys to a geisha house. 

The guys play cards at the geisha house.  Lefty keeps hearing a cat whine and shoots at it, but misses.  He goes back to playing cards.  Soon a police inspector arrives.  He asks about a cat that has been shot.  Lefty tells him that no cat has been shot.  He missed.  The inspector ignores this and keeps asking him questions.  Suddenly, the inspector asks Taro if his father is Reo Seki?  Yes, he is.  The inspector  apologizes for the interruption saying that the alleged cat was not shot from here.  The guys are impressed that Taro's father is so powerful in Japan.

Reo Seki says that Taro started living his own life, but he was still hopeful that he could bend his son to his will.   But he had not counted on Tama.  Tora really likes her and they start dating.  He takes her to a baseball game.  Lefty is the coach of one of the teams.  He is skeptical of this militarization of Japan.  Now instead of just enjoying a baseball game, the Japanese must enjoy baseball as a military exercise.  Reo comments that Japan was now a warrior state and they all had to act accordingly.  He writes to his son that the son was blind to much of what was going on in Japan. 

Taro has been dating Tama now for seventeen months.  At a restaurant he asks her to be his wife.  Tama reminds him that in Japan marriages are arranged. So, says Taro, he will arrange it with his father.  Tama says in that case she will marry him.  O'Hara breaks up the happy moment because the military guys at the bar are getting out of hand.  He says there was an incident at the Marco Polo bridge. In the Japanese paper is the headline lie:  "Chinese Attack Japanese Forces!" 

Taro speaks with his father.  Reo tells him that Japan is still a feudal society and a few powerful families in Japan even control the Emperor.  He cannot marry Tama.  He must marry well to secure the financial situation for the family.  Taro says he will take his chances at the bottom in order to marry Tama.  At this moment Taro receives his draft notice.  Taro is none to sure of this, but his father tells him this is good because in six months he will be an officer. 

Dad writes that he lost his son to the war in China.  Neither man wrote to the other.  One year later dad learned that his son was in one of the Northern occupied provinces of China.  He learned it via Sara Braden, the American newspaper woman in China.  Bumping into a Japanese soldier, the soldier slaps Sara and tells her that will teach her not to bump into a soldier of Japan.  She is really upset by this.  She runs into Taro.  He apologizes for the incident but says there really isn't much he can do about it.  He admits that sometimes the men get a little out of hand.

The Japanese give out opium to Chinese civilians.  Taro objects to this, but his superior officer tells him that it is an easy way to control the city with fewer men. 

Tama goes to see Taro's father to share with dad the letters she has received from Taro.  But he refuses to see her.  The servants keep telling her that he is not in. 

Sara Braden goes to Taro to object to what the soldiers are doing right outside his window.  She asks him to get up, go to the window and look for himself!  He does so.  A Japanese throws a young child up in the air and bayonets it.  Taro only says they are not his men, so it's not his responsibility.  Sara Braden is disgusted with him and leaves.  Taro gets up and closes the shutters to shut out most of the noise of the screaming outside. 

Tama knows that Taro's dad never speaks of Taro anymore.  But she is still determined to get in to see Reo Seki.  This time she goes to his office.  When the secretary steps out, Tama steps into Reo Seki's office.  She tells him she has some letters from her son to her that he might want to read.  Reo says he does not want to read his son's letters.  Tama works on him some more and he finally tells her to leave the letters there and come back to see him tomorrow.  Tama does what she is told. 

The Japanese rope off a whole village.  Only the women are left in the village.  All the women are now deemed to be prostitutes and must service any Japanese soldier. 

Tama has won over Reo Seki to her side.  She brings more letters to him and grandmother.  Reo Seki says that Tama is a very good girl.  Grandmother is so enthused about Tama that she wants Tama to be Taro's wife.  She tells her son to arrange for a friend to adopt Tama to put her in a higher social class and then she will be as good as "us".  In one of the letters Taro says that he's coming home.  Tama is so happy and she quickly tells everyone. 

Taro and Tama hug.  Then they both go into O'Hara's office where they have set up a little reception party for Taro.  Dad is there and he greets his son.  The guys all comment that Reo Seki is the new minister of propaganda in Japan.  Then everyone toasts to Taro.  Sara Braden arrives and objects to the toast saying that they should rather toast to the poor children killed under Taro in China.  Taro takes this as an insult to the Emperor and wants to confront Sara.  O'Hara stands in his way and tells him he cannot hit a woman.  So Taro challenges O'Hara to fight.

A sort of duel is arranged.  But neither Taro or O'Hara fight.  Each man selects a substitute.  So Lefty the boxer has to face Taro's wrestler.  Lefty wins the match.  O'Hara, seeing the anger seething among the Japanese, tells Lefty that they better get out of there and quick! 

O'Hara, upon request, goes to visit Reo Seki.  Reo apologizes for his son.  But he thinks it's time for O'Hara to go home.  He says there is going to be war with America and there is nothing he can do to stop it.  He's not afraid that Japan will lose, but that Japan will win.  He says he doesn't think Japan is suited to rule the world.  He mentions to O'Hara that he surely has seen what Japan has done to his son.  He says Taro now is no more than a savage.  He has asked for more duty in the air core.  He wants to kill now for the sheer joy of killing.  He asks that O'Hara not hate Taro too much.  O'Hara leaves. 

Tama talks to O'Hara.  She says Taro and she are going to visit her parents for a few days.  With a few days in the country, she believes Taro will be back to his old self.  O'Hara asks her if she is sure she wants to marry him?  Yes. 

Tama is so happy to be with her parents again.  But this happiness is tarnished when she learns that her parents have sold her young sister to a disreputable man.  She asks Taro to buy her back, but Taro says no.  But soon he realizes that this could affect his whole future with Tama and he gives in to her.  Just then Taro learns that the Japanese have attacked the United States of America at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  Taro says he must report to his unit.  Tama asks him what about his promise to buy her sister back?  He says the only thing that matters now is Japan.  He leaves. 

Tama searches for her sister.  She walks the streets of Tokyo.  One day the police take her into custody for being the secretary of the spy O'Hara.  She tells her interrogators that O'Hara is not a spy.  Meanwhile the police are torturing Sara Braden.  The torturers ask if Miss Braden is ready to confess that all her writings about Japan in China are lies?  She says they are not lies. 

There have been many quick Japanese victories in Asia.  Now Taro is flying bombing raids over Burma. 

O'Hara is tortured by sleep deprivation.  The police inspector tortures Lefty, who says that he is not a spy and neither is O'Hara.  Tama and Sara Braden are in a jail cell together next to the cell holding O'Hara.  Taro comes back to Japan, but does not go to see Tama.  He has been told that she is an enemy and that he is a hero.  Dad writes that Taro swore away the life of the girl he loved.  Taro testifies that the entire group are spies and they have been ever since he met them in the spring of 1936.  He tells the police interrogator that he broke off his relationship with Tama as a manner of honor.  After testifying, Colonel Taro Seki goes to speak with his father.  He justifies his lying about Tama and the others, saying there was nothing he could do for them anyway.  Dad says they will at least die with honor.  Taro takes exception to this remark and says:  "Whatever is right for Japan, is right for me.  We are the masters of the world!"  Dad is very disappointed in his son. 

Sara Braden asks O'Hara what they will do to them now?  He keeps her spirits up by saying:  "I was just about to ask you to marry me."  Sara is a bit skeptical about this, but he assures her he is sincere.  Boris comes into the jail.  He says that Max, in order to keep an eye on hims, takes him wherever he goes and this time he came to the police.  So here he is.  Boris tells them that Reo Seki is doing what he can to get them released from jail.  He is sure Seki will get them out.  Just then an air raid siren sounds.  O'Hara wants the planes to bomb the hell out of Tokyo. 

Taro is sent up to shoot down some of the bombers. 

The prisoners are being transferred to another jail.  A special car sent by Reo Seki waits for them.  Tama, Sara and O'Hara get into the car and they are driven away from Tokyo.  Tama tells the driver to stop.  She is getting out.  She says her place is in Japan.  She wants to stay and help the Japanese with the rebuilding of their society after the war. The two Americans are going to be able to get out of Japan and go home. 

An American bomber shoots Taro's plane down.  The plane goes down in flames.  Dad writes that to die without reason is to have lived without reason.  He argues that the Japanese he knows must die with him.  He writes that he dies for the hope that the people of Japan may redeem themselves.  He is preparing to commits ritual suicide.  He says for the spirits to destroy them as they have destroyed others.  They must be destroyed before it is too late. 


Enjoyed the film.  I especially like the part dealing with the rise of the fascists in pre-WW II Japan.  Reo Seki, who became the minister of propaganda, gradually over time became disillusioned by Japan.  He saw what was happening to Japan by watching how the wrong-headed Japanese society changed his son into a savage killer looking to kill just for the fun of it.  He also mentions that Japan is still very much a feudal society where a few rich families even control the Emperor.  Interesting comments.  And as is Germany, violence was used to silence liberal opponents of state fascism. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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