Paradise Road (1997)




Director:  Bruce Beresford.

Starring:  Glenn Close (Adrienne Pargiter), Frances McDormand (Dr. Verstak), Pauline Collins (Daisy 'Margaret' Drummond), Cate Blanchett (Susan Macarthy), Jennifer Ehle (Rosemary Leighton-Jones), Julianna Margulies (Topsy Merritt), Wendy Hughes (Mrs. Dickson), Johanna ter Steege (Sister Wilhelminia), Elizabeth Spriggs (Mrs. Roberts), Pamela Rabe (Mrs. Tippler), Clyde Kusatsu (Sergeant Tomiashi, 'The Snake'), Stan Egi (Captain Tanaka), David Chung (The Interpreter), Sab Shimono (Colonel Hirota), Penne Hackforth-Jones (Mrs. Pike).

women imprisoned in Sumatra in WWII dealing with Japanese atrocities


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

Raffles Hotel, Singapore, February 10, 1942.  A big ball is being held.  Adrienne Pargiter and her husband are at the ball.  In conversation, everyone seems to be underestimating the abilities of the Japanese to wage war, but Adrienne says all such talk is "poppycock".  A shell explodes outside.  Three soldiers enter the ballroom and head for the stage.  They make an announcement that the Japanese have crossed the Jahore Strait and Singapore is now in their artillery range. The city will fall in a few days. All European women and children are to leave Singapore immediately. 

The women and children are placed on a ship headed to safety out of range of Japanese fighter planes.  Onboard ship are some Australian nurses.  The ship is nearing eleven hours out of Singapore when they are attacked by Japanese fighters.  The command is given to abandon ship.  Adrienne jumps on top of a girl to protect her from the strafing of the planes, but when she gets up she finds the girl had already been hit and killed by enemy fire.  Mrs. Pargiter abandons ship.  She finds herself with two other women, Rosemary the fashion model, and Susan the Australian nurse.  The women are able to get to shore.  They get very muddy as they walk through the mangrove swamps to get to hard land. 

Walking along a road on the island of Sumatra, they are passed by Japanese soldiers on bikes.  They are, however, picked up by Captain Tanaka in his car.  He was formerly a newspaper correspondent.  Adrienne complains to him about the Japanese sinking the Prince Albert on which were primarily women and children and Captain Tanaka regards her as a very rude person.  The Captain drops them off down town.  As the three women wonder what they will do next, Sgt. Tomiashi and two other Japanese soldiers hit one of the women and knock down all three.  They are then dragged off and placed with the other prisoners of war.  The only good thing is that they are reunited with most of the women from their ship. 

They are transported to a prisoner of war camp run by Colonel Hirota.  Most of the prisoners are British, then Dutch, with a spattering of Irish, Chinese and some other ethnic groups.  All the inmates are made to bow for the raising of the Japanese flag.  Adrienne and the other newcomers meet a German Jewish woman named Dr. Verstak who is the main medical doctor for the women prisoners.  The newcomers also learn that over the hill there is a prisoner of war camp for men. 

One of the newcomers, Mrs. Roberts,  has a bad case of malaria.  A Chinese lady named Wing volunteers to get her some quinine medicine. She trades certain goods with several natives just outside the barbed wire fence.  She gets the quinine and Mrs. Roberts is saved.  

Captain Tanaka of the Japanese secret police arrives at the camp.  He has prisoner Wing come to the front.  There she is made to kneel on all fours, has gasoline poured all over her and is lit on fire.  The women have a burial service for Wing.  In the service death is referred to as "Paradise Road". 

There is some tension between British Empire women and the Dutch.  Some British women start a fight with a small group of Dutch women in the showers for stealing a bar of soap.  Other women rush in to put an end to it and Daisy Drummond finds the soap on the ground. 

To improve morale and lessen the tension, Adrienne suggests starting a vocal orchestra. Adrienne herself is made the conductor because she has the musical training.  Mrs. Tippler, a bit of a complainer, does not think the orchestra is a good idea.  As the women gather together for practice Sgt. Tomiashi and his soldiers attack and rough-up the women.

The Japanese make a list of all the younger and better looking women in the camp.  They are taken over to the Japanese Officers' Club.  The Japanese ask  the women for volunteers to work at the club.  They will be given a good place to live and plenty to eat.  Although many of the women are shocked, a few of the women do volunteer. 

A year has gone by.  Sgt. Tomiashi  attacks Adrienne as she comes out of the shower.  She fights back, slaps the sergeant and he falls into the latrine. Charges against Adrienne are brought by Captain Tanaka.  She will be executed.  But the women object to Col. Hirota that it is he, not Captain Tanaka, who is in charge of the camp and he should rescind the order of death.  (Their point is well-taken by Hirota.)  The death sentence is not carried out, but Captain Tanaka does break two of her ribs as punishment. 

The women have now been at the camp for two years.  They all get dressed up.  The vocal orchestra performs for the women.  Japanese soldiers grab their weapons and head over to break up the performance.  But as they near the orchestra, they are so pleased with the music that they stop.  After awhile, they start sitting down.  The performance goes on.  There are a lot more graves now in the camp burial ground.  But on the positive side, the vocal orchestra was a great success. 

The women do some road work.  Sgt. Tomiashi tells the women to leave, but holds Adrienne back.  He leads Adrienne into the jungle.  Adrienne is very scared that he is going to shoot her in the back and say she was trying to escape.  But instead he has her sit down and he sings a Japanese song to her.  Then he asks her if she liked it.  Shocked, Adrienne slightly nods yes. 

Rosemary receives a note from her husband saying that he and some other men are going to escape and that he will meet her at a familiar hotel in Australia.  The Japanese give the women some news that Australia is ready to make a peace agreement with Japan.  Susan from Australia mutters a cynical reply.  Captain Tanaka wants to know what she said, but she makes up something inane as an answer.  This does not satisfy the captain so he has her punished.  She has to knell with a tube with dagger points put on the back of her thighs and resting on the back of her legs.  Very sharp pointed sticks are then placed behind her and in front of her.  Susan has to stay in that position for hours. 

Dr. Verstak tells the Japanese translator to tell Captain Tanaka that when the war is over the Allies might hang him if he continues to abuse the women prisoners.  The translator does not think it will help, but he tells the Captain.  Tanaka strides over to Susan still kneeling, pulls out his long sword and gets in a stance ready to cut her head off.  He swings the sword down, but he only cuts off a little bit of her hair.  The women prisoners are relieved and shocked that she is spared.  Susan is released from her torture.

Col. Hirota and the translator sit right in front to listen to the vocal orchestra and clap when the performance is over.  Adrienne and Daisy Drummond take a bow.  Adrienne is a little surprised that Ms. Drummond does not hate the Japanese.  But Daisy's answer is "The worse they behave, the sorrier I feel for them."

The women learn that General MacArthur is back in the Philippines.  There is hope that the war will be over soon.  The women are placed on trucks and taken to the train station.  Near them are the mountains of Loebok Lingau.  Rosemary sees her husband with a bloody head sitting in a car with Japanese soldiers.  She now knows that he has been captured.  This knowledge sends her into depression. 

The women are put on a train.  An Irish woman dies on board.  They then have to walk through swamps.  Rosemary says that none of them will ever leave Sumatra alive.  The other women try to cheer her up.  They land in a nicer camp.  Rosemary dies, followed by Mrs. Roberts.  Daisy Drummond then dies.

The war is over.  The Japanese soldiers leave.  The women are extremely happy.  It is August 24, 1945.   The Allies did not arrive for another two weeks.  The women were taken to Singapore and Jakarta for medical treatment.  They then were sent home.  The vocal orchestra ceased when half its members had died.  The arrangements they performed have been saved. 


Good movie.  There are some great actors in the film.  Some of them are Glenn Close, Frances McDormand, Cate Blanchett and Julianna Margulies.  Even with women and children, the Japanese were absolutely brutal.  Because of different histories, some societies become brutalized.  Germany and Japan were prime examples of this.  All the P.O.W. films involving the Japanese tell the same story: cruel and inhumane treatment of the prisoners. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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