'Blood on the Sun,' in Classic, Cool Context

This Saturday a 9 p.m., KCET brings you the 1945 thriller "Blood on he Sun." The film stars James Cagney as a tough guy journalist who prints a story about Japan's plan for world domination. It's the latest entry in KCET's "Classic, Cool Theater" series, which aims to give you not only a great film but also a vintage cartoon, two newsreels and an of-the-era musical number. All those extras add up to what makes "Classic, Cool Theater" so special: context.

In the spirit of this unique package, we're offering you a peek at the America -- and the Los Angeles -- that received the original "Blood on the Sun" back on Apr. 26, 1945.

In its opening text crawl, this late-war propaganda movie bills itself as the story behind real-life Japanese Prime Minister Baron Tanaka Giichi's plans for global conquest in the late 1920s. The fictional film's plot centers on his attempts to conceal those plans -- namely the so-called "Tanaka Memorial" document that detailed a plot to conquer China and the United States.

While such a document was published (in a Chinese Nationalist newspaper in 1929 and in a radical Christian American magazine in 1934), the film's command of the facts stops there. Most historians consider this "secret document" to be a forgery, and its true origins are unknown.

Still, a Japanese counterpart to "Mein Kampf" was sensational subject matter in 1945, and this wasn't the first time Hollywood had dealt with the document. Just a year before, Frank Capra had described it in "The Battle Of China," part of his "Why We Fight" propaganda series. Here's an excerpt from Capra's film:



There's at least one aspect of "Blood" that wasn't falsified: James Cagney's judo skills. Having earned his tough guy stripes with films like 1931's "The Public Enemy," Cagney insisted on doing his own stunts, trained extensively and went on to become a judo black belt. Cagney's instructor was former Los Angeles Police Department officer John Halloran, who plays Cagney's on-screen adversary, Captain Oshima. A sign of the times, Halloran had resigned from the L.A.P.D. after coming under fire for training judo students in visits to the Manzanar internment camp. Watch he and Cagney duke it out in one of the film's best fight scenes below:

This Frank Lloyd-directed film was Sylvia Sidney's first in four years, a small comeback for the actress who'd starred in Fritz Lang's "You Only Live Once" and Hitchcock's "Sabotage" in the 1930s.

As with most wartime films, the Japanese characters in "Blood" aren't played by Japanese actors. Instead, white actors provide crude caricatures with false teeth and taped eyelids.

Take a Closer Look Back

The film's April 26, 1945, came just three months after the Japanese internment order was rescinded and internees were freed from camps, and four months before the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Take a look below at some of Ansel Adam's photos from Manzanar, the internment camp where many Japanese-Americans from Los Angeles were held. And check out this previous KCET post about how Japanese Internment shaped Los Angeles.

Mrs. Naguchi and two children, Manzanar Relocation Center (Photo: By Ansel Adams, via the Library of Congress)
Tom Kobayashi, seated in a field. (Photo: By Ansel Adams, via the Library of Congress)
Farm workers, Mt. Williamson in background, Manzanar Relocation Center, California. (Photo: By Ansel Adams, via the Library of Congress)

(For a deeper look into the Japanese-American World War II experience, visit the Japanese American National Museum's online collections.)

The film's release coincided with the peak of anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States. Propaganda like this poster and war film below certainly played a role in shaping that sentiment.

Poster commissioned by Douglas Aircraft Company during World War II, and subsidized by the War Production Board. (Photo: From the National Archives)



The front page of the Los Angeles Times on the day on the day the film premiered was brimming with war news. This included reports of an air raid that took out Hitler's mountain chalet in Southern Germany and President Truman's clandestine visit to the Pentagon for a conference with the War Department.

One of 1945's most popular films was "Anchors Aweigh," a musical comedy in which Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly star as two sailors on shore leave in Hollywood.

Later that year, Angelenos would join the country in celebrating U.S. victory over Japan. While that iconic Life magazine photo of the kissing nurse was snapped at New York's Times Square V-J Day celebrations, there were similar scenes in Los Angeles. Check out the video below.


LEAVE A COMMENT Leave Comment