Ana-ta-han

1953

Drama / War

12
Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 100%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 76%
IMDb Rating 7.4 10 632

Synopsis


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644.18 MB
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English
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1hr 32 min
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English
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23.976 fps
1hr 32 min
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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by theskulI42 6 / 10

Feels like I'm drowning...

Oh great. I finally obtain this incredibly rare film, a blank tape with a sticker on it, in a clear case, from a tiny town in northeast Wiscons, and I pop in the tape, all ready to enjoy the film...if the narrator would just SHUT the HELL UP! The omniscient voice-over (in English, provided by von Sternberg himself) literally talks throughout the entire film. He vocally provides setting, action, subtext, inner monologue and even dialogue! There are no subtitles in the film, and the film isn't dubbed into English. von Sternberg simply reads the lines for both people, giving the direct action the short shrift as he emotionally distanced it from us with his flat delivery. It felt like I was being treated like a six-year-old, watching Reading Rainbow, with Levar Burton slowly enunciating every line in an aloof, patronizing tone, as if he thinks I'm an idiot, like I'm not smart enough to actually comprehend the goings on, which are fairly straightforward.

But even more frustratingly, he abruptly stops talking, almost as if to say, "FINE, YOU TRY IT WITHOUT ME!" and suddenly I'm left adrift; since all the characters have the same voice, I found it difficult to differentiate between them, and suddenly their voices are gone, and I have no idea what was going on, as I felt von Sternberg derisively chuckling and nodding behind me.

It's an intriguing tale, the story of five Japanese soldiers, thanks to the strong values and refusal of surrender instilled in them since childhood, continue to fight and guard an outpost long after the fighting has ceased. Even if he had one glaring post-production failure, von Sternberg still knows how to direct, and there are a few striking visual sequences, several well-made, interesting setpieces, with the give-and-take between the two, three and four von-Sterberg-sans, including a few exciting conflicts that result in violence. But the narrator kept talking, then hung me out to dry, and I was left flailing unpleasantly.

That was the feeling I got from Anatahan, that I was being talked down to, that he was reading a children's book and showing me the pictures, then got mad at me and stormed out, with any possibility of me loving the film went right along with it. To put it one way, I was overly smothered and babied in the kiddie pool, then abruptly shoved into the deep end without my floaties. I think I would have preferred the film on mute, and I probably still could have figured out what was going on from the outset, completely without his f-cking patronage, thank you very much.

{Grade: 6.5/10 (high C+) / #16 (of 22) of 1953}

Reviewed by OldAle1 10 / 10

Sternberg's last masterpiece, one of the great oddities of American cinema

This had been a holy grail film for me for many years, mostly from reading Jonathan Rosenbaum's descriptions of it....sounded like a truly sui generis film, a soldiers-stranded-on-island and reverting to barbarism story told entirely with quite artificial-looking sets and unsubtitled dialogue, with the director narrating...a completely noncommercial film from a frustrated, bitter middle-aged director tired of fighting the studio bigwigs, determined to make a truly personal film whatever the cost.

I finally located a pretty decent VHS copy a few months ago and watched it last night, and I must say it equalled or even exceeded by expectations -- this really is a film experience like nothing else out there. The photography and sound, even on a somewhat soft and fuzzy VHS, are just stunning -- the sound design in particular is worthy of Lynch, and really the film as a whole is one of the weirdest American features to be released before Eraserhead. Sternberg's narration interacts in all kinds of ways with the action on screen, sometimes anticipating events, sometimes contradicting what we see, sometimes questioning...the hermetic world created on the sound-stage is obviously unreal, and yet the lush beauty of the photography and sets creates a unique otherworld as powerful as anything in the massive-budgeted 'scope spectacles that would be Hollywood's bread-and-butter for the next decade. It's as if Sternberg knew where American film was headed, and told us he could do something much more interesting at a fraction the price.

And if all of this makes the film sound like an arid exercise in technique and style -- fear not -- the ending, with the island's sole woman reflecting back on the several men who met their deaths as the result of their fighting over her, is powerfully emotional and resonant.

I'm not sure my comments are at all meaningful, this is a hard film to wrap my head around...suffice it to say I recommend it as strongly as possible to those that can find it.

Reviewed by MARIO GAUCI 8 / 10

THE SAGA OF ANATAHAN (Josef von Sternberg, 1953) ***1/2

Sternberg's famous swan-song (at the time of writing his equally notable autobiography in 1965, he had hoped to direct again but died 4 years later!) was considered a rarity until a few years back: in fact, I first watched snippets from it as a kid in the 1990 documentary Hollywood MAVERICKS on local TV; then, it eventually turned up on late-night Italian TV. I later acquired a low-grade and problematic copy of it but subsequently upgraded to a serviceable one, albeit still plagued by the occasional audio drop-out and accompanied by forced French subtitles!

Disillusioned with Hollywood by this time, Sternberg tried his luck abroad and, while he described the circumstances of shooting this one as ideal (in that he was free to exercise his well-documented autocracy!) in his autobiography, it was far from easy since the film was directed through interpreters and sometimes had to resort to storyboards in order to get across what was required of cast and crew! Sternberg writes bemusedly about the complexity of the Japanese language, the hiring of a kabuki actor for one of the main roles and his being gradually seen by all and sundry as a father-figure (being even asked by her family to protect the virtue of the virginal{!} leading lady). In any case, it is interesting that, being set and shot in Japan, this came at a time when that country's cinema was enjoying world-wide recognition largely through the works of Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi.

Incidentally, though the film features Japanese dialogue throughout, this is not translated into English – instead, we get the writer-director himself supplying intermittent commentary to expound on the action! Even so, this and the ghostly parade of victims at the finale constitute the only stylistic flourishes within the film. Indeed, the picture is unusually stark for Sternberg – treated almost like a documentary, with superimposed dates indicating the passage of time, and utilizing stock footage of returning Japanese WWII veterans. Opting as always to shoot entirely within the controlled environment of a studio, he took his traditional artificiality to new levels – with sets and props sometimes being no more than just drawings (including the titular Pacific island!) and deploying copious lighting equipment, given that most of the proceedings occur in the daytime!!

With this in mind, the premise is simple enough: at the tail-end of WWII, the crew of a sunken ship are stranded on an apparently uninhabited island in the Philippines; however, it transpires that a couple are living on it and, soon, the battle-weary and sex-starved soldiers begin to disobey the orders of their commanding officer (who insists they keep vigilance over potential attack by the enemy and in the hope of spotting a salvage vessel) and contend over the sole female presence, a vixen-ish girl who actively encourages their attentions despite the stern monitoring of her consort! In this respect, the film anticipates the likes of Seth Holt's STATION SIX SAHARA (1962), Edgar G. Ulmer's THE CAVERN (1964; the last effort by this cult figure, too) and John Derek's ONCE BEFORE I DIE (1965), all of which dealt with a similar situation of one-woman-to-several-men in already-sticky surroundings – for the record, I recently watched the first of these but, while I own the others as well, I still need to check them out. Still, inspired as it was by a true story, there were some initial protests that such a sensitive Japanese story was to be told by a foreigner (even if his work was well-known); in retrospect, its people are depicted in reasonably realistic fashion – so much so that it would later become a clichéd view! – as honorable citizens, prone to making merry but also driven by lust.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the film was badly received in Japan but, then, it ended up being overlooked everywhere else as well (dismissed as an eccentric foot-note to a great directorial career)…except in France, with the glowing "Cahiers Du Cinema" assessment being reprinted in full in Sternberg's memoirs! Personally, I feel that its dramatic and artistic power are undeniable and, after all this time, still very much undiminished. The last word, however, goes to the director who unreservedly called it "my best film" and one that he believed ahead of its time, especially in the way it attempted to make cinema patrons reflect beyond what was on the screen.

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