The Saga of Anatahan

Screening on Film
Directed by Josef von Sternberg.
With Akemi Negishi, Suganume, Ikio Sawamura.
Japan, 1954, 35mm, black & white, 92 min.
English and Japanese with English subtitles.

Josef von Sternberg’s rarely seen last film reaches the height of stylization: he re-creates the Pacific island setting in a Japanese studio out of paper and cellophane, employing Kabuki-trained actors with no knowledge of English. Based on a factual incident, the film tells of a dozen Japanese merchant seamen shipwrecked in 1944 on Anatahan, where they find a man and a woman. By the time they are persuaded that World War II is over, in 1951, five men have died in fights over the woman. Von Sternberg’s baroque vision is fully realized in the film he himself considered his best.

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Treasures from the Harvard Film Archive: A–Z