Road Rash Reviews

The Saga of Anatahan (1953) Review****-

Cert 12 | 92 mins | 1953-1958

4 Star

Discipline is Everything

or You have


Josef von Sterberg (The Last Command, Shanghai Express) was a man who threw himself at his passions of writing, directing and capturing on cine-film his script and the visuals he saw in his minds-eye. A film based on real WWII events that took place in the vast area of the Pacific Ocean. This was filmed in 1953 but this version is his last edit of 1958 when he was teaching film at UCLA. It tells the tale of Japanese men stranded on a forgotten island and their story of survival with the elements and a woman, all told through a narrator (Josef von Sterberg), which itself is a strange and a refreshing idea. Amazing story telling.

Five fishing vessels in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean heading to supply troops with much needed medical and food supplies, these seamen have been drafted to help their country. Each ship has two army personnel guarding the ship. It is four bells and the cook brings up the skippers breakfast.

The friendly chat is broken by the drone of an aeroplane, being the Pacific they think it is one of their own planes, but they are wrong and things are suddenly turned literally turned upside down and the ships go down quickly. Luckily a little earlier one of the soldiers had spotted the volcanic island of Anatahan and those who were capable made it to the shore, the Warrant Officer actually landed with a large machine gun, before setting it up on a vantage point high up looking out to sea.

Anatahan is three miles long and one mile wide and 90% of it is impenetrable, it rises up from the Marianas trench some 35,000ft below the surface of the deep blue of the roiling sea. The men survive on the meagre fruits the jungle gives up, until one of the scouts spots a former plantation and they all head out to recce the discovery.

What they discover is pretty run-down and looks abandoned but with a few shouts of ‘OI’ a face appears then a man comes out to inspect this interruption to his quiet life.

Kusakabe (Tadashi Suganuma, A Fugitive from the Past) says that he lives alone after all the plantation workers left to help the war effort, but soon a vision of beauty emerges from the hut, this is Keiko (Akemi Negishi, The Hot Little Girl) Kusakabe’s wife and he doesn’t like the attention she receives as the men move into the former plantation.

Thing remain frosty at first as the Warrant Officer keeps discipline and the men on watch, but bored minds will seek release and they manage to find empty bottles and make coconut wine and consume it at every opportunity, which the Warrant Officer frowns upon and disciplines  them. This lowering of standards leads to Keiko taking an interest in some of the men.

Things can only go downhill from here, as men vie for her affections and keep it out of sight of the ever jealous Kusakabe.

All the film dialogue is in Japanese but that doesn’t matter as the whole of the film is narrated in a past tense and the cinematography shows the events according to that narration.

I have never seen a film like this before but I found it compelling and the story telling is much more the acting than the narration, even though you cannot understand the dialogue (Unless you speak Japanese of course).

Highly recommended.



·         Reversible Sleeve

·         1080p presentation from a new 2K restoration of the uncensored 1958 version of the film

·         Uncompressed PCM soundtrack (on the Blu-ray)

·         Optional English subtitles

·         The complete 1953 version of the film (Blu-ray only)

·         A new interview with Asian film expert Tony Rayns

·         Whose Saga? –  A visual essay by critic Tag Gallagher

·         Saga: The Making of Anatahan – An interview with Nicolas von Sternberg

·         U.S. Navy footage of the actual survivors of Anatahan, immediately after their surrender

·         Unused footage originally filmed specially for the 1958 version of the film

·         Original theatrical trailer

·         PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by Philip Kemp, alongside rare archival imagery

The Saga of Anatahan is available on Dual-Format

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DirectorJosef von Sternberg
GenreDrama, War
StarringAkemi NEGISHI, Tadashi SUGANUMA, Kisaburo SAWAMURA
Available to buy on : Own The Saga of Anatahan (1953) (Masters of Cinema) Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition on Blu-Ray