Thursday, March 04, 2010

"Blood Oath" aka "Prisoners of the Sun" becomes timely now


Since the recent hit “The Ghost Writer” brings up (at least as a plot device) the issue of war crimes trials, I checked out the 1990 Australian film “Blood Oath”, which tells the story of an obscure war crimes trial in the Pacific Theater against the “Japs” after WWII, in December 1945, for atrocities committed on Ambon, an Indonesian island north of Australia. The film is directed by Stephen Wallace, written by Dennis Whitburn and Brian A. Williams, and introduces Russell Crowe as Lt. Corbett. Other main characters include Captain Cooper (Bryan Brown) and Vice-Admiral Baron Takahashi (George Takei). The film was one of the first produced by Village Roadshow Pictures, now a major business partner of Warner Brothers. The film did use Warner facilities in Australia (most was shot in northern Queensland) but was distributed in the US by Skouras under the title “Prisoners of the Sun”. The DVD from Allumination (2004) is full screen (unfortunately) but contains an extra interview (“Ray Martin Live”) with Russle Crow and Bryan Brown and then a Music video authored by the actors, “30 Odd Foot of Grunts –‘Memorial Day’”.

The film takes place in December 1945, and depicts a war crimes trial against Japanese subordinates who ordered the executive of hundreds of Allied POW’s (by beheading, shown once). The subordinates try to claim that there was a court-martial and that they were ordered to do the atrocities by superiors. The movie has the character of a stage-play, with courtroom drama in the jungle, discussing moral and political problems. The Americans and Aussies believe that a lot is at stake as the future of the world is being negotiated – yet we all know that it will take turns no one can imagine at the time anyway. There is a great line in the script, “This isn’t justice, this is politics.”

The title of the Australian edition of the movie seems to refer to the values of pre WWII Japanese society. It is said (as in the World Book Encyclopedia) that the Japanese were like the Nazis in wanting a “master race” but it seems much more subtle than that.

Another film about war crimes is a classic, sometimes shown on PBS, “Judgment at Nuremberg"(1961, MGM/United Artists, dir. Stanley Kramer, 186 min), in gorgeous black and white.

This DVD might seem timely in view of the political debate of Guantanomo, and the proper way to try some of the 9/11 defendants. It also recall’s Gavin Hood’s film “Rendition” (2007), from New Line (with Jake Gyllenhaal as the naïve Douglas Freeman and his pie charts).

Picture: from US Army Ordnance Museum, Aberdeen MD.

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