This film is part of Free

Japan - Master of the Orient

A Tokyo cabaret dancer twirls a parasol emblazoned with the Swastika and the Rising Sun: one striking image among many in this 1939 film about the dangers of Japanese aggression.

Documentary 1939 18 mins


The apocalyptic tones of narrator Westbrook Van Vorhuis are employed to their full in this condemnation of Japan’s wars of aggression in China and against British and US interests in Shanghai. One of the so-called ‘crisis’ films from 1939, the kaleidoscopic images show how a nation which was recently a feudal empire has transformed itself into a modern, industrialised war machine that has invaded China and now threatens the West.

Associate Producer Arthur Tourtellot said that March of Time was “not partisan in a small way, it was partisan in a big way” and this film is certainly a case in point. Yet, look more closely and a more objective journalistic impulse is evident, which prevents the film from becoming mere propaganda. We see scenes of domesticity and of busy city life, as well as images of war and death: Japanese families eating together and fishermen mending their nets are portrayed next to shots of a modern telephone exchange and the Tokyo metro. In this context the footage of shrines to Suicide Squads, the devastation in Manchuria and cinema audiences watching Nazi propaganda films becomes all the more powerful.