Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

28 June 2016

Blood on the Sun!

This title is hilarious, and this movie is sort of hilarious too, except that it wants to be very serious.

Blood on the Sun is a James Cagney movie with the tagline "Cagney's Mightiest!". In it, he is an aikido-trained, hard-bitten reporter working for an English-language newspaper in Japan right before World War II.

Cagney plays the kind of character who doesn't do what he's told and likes to get upset his superiors by telling them the truth when no one wants to hear it.

The film is a fascinating curiosity. It is a fictional retelling of the story of the Tanaka Memorial, which was a fake story about a document written by Japanese Prime Minister Tanaka Giichi for Emperor Hirohito that explained how Japan could take over the entire world. First Manchuria and Mongolia, then China, then all of Asia. A short version of this document was actually a published story in an English-language newspaper in 1931 in China, but the whole thing was an elaborate anti-Japanese hoax.

The plot of the film involves Cagney and a double agent in the employ of the Japanese (a beautiful woman played by Silvia Sidney with whom he falls in love – because of her principles) getting ahold of the original document, which they want to publish for the world to see, so we can all see that Japan is trying to take over the world just like Hitler.

To hear the story right now, it immediately sounds like propaganda. As I watched the movie, I instantly thought to myself, well this sounds like typical American wartime nonsense. Sure enough, it is (it was released in the Summer of 1945).

But the movie has its pleasures, particularly Cagney's martial arts fights, which are really delightful, and there are enough of them to make this movie worth watching. There's an entire sequence where Cagney fights three guys in his house in Japan and basically destroys the place. It's fun watching Cagney fight hand-to-hand instead of playing the gangster with the gun. And I have to confess that I love classic Hollywood versions of China and Japan. These old movies where white people play Asians, with "oriental-style" music in the score, that underline how mysterious the "East" is and how no one can be trusted over there. They fascinate me.

Also, this movie is in the public domain and so you can watch it on YouTube, which is what I did.