About the Meal Prepared by the Cultural Elites and its Nutritional Merits

Promotional Advertisement for URLAUB AUF EHRENWORT
in Japanese Film Magazine, NIHON EIGA, June 1941

While UNTERNEHMEN MICHAEL (1938) was released after Japanese censorship had butchered it, another Karl Ritter’s film, URLAUB AUF EHRENWORT (1938) was banned in its entirety. According to Akira Iwasaki, the official reason given was that film depicted the officer’s insubordination to the orders. However, by the time its ban was announced, this film had already been screened to directors, producers, writers and critics in film industries, and some magazines published their reviews and discussions on their pages even. These insiders praised URLAUB AUF EHRENWORT unanimously, some calling it a masterpiece. Around the same time, Marlene Dietrich’s DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939) was being shown in theaters. Many critics despised DESTRY, calling it an empty-headed, escapist, silly entertainment. Superficially, the contrast seems obvious: Hollywood films (the potential enemy state) were deemed as ‘degenerate’ entertainment, while the Germans (our ally) provided ‘high art’ firmly deeply rooted in centuries of their culture. However, there seems to be more than that.

“… one of the weakness of war films, I think, is that it is hard to recreate the grittiness of the real war on film, and it tends to become a shallow depiction of a child play. However, I was impressed that URLAUB AUF EHRENWORT is, with great skills, saved from these pitfalls of war films.”
Kazuho Tokuda (1)
Set in the World War I, the film is about the troops being transferred from the Eastern Front to the notorious Western Front in the vital year of 1918. Their train arrived at the Berlin station and the order was to wait for 6 hours to catch another train leaving westward through Brandenburg Station. Many of its soldiers were the Berliners and begged their young Lieutenant Pr├Ątorius to grant them furlough. Though the Lieutenant was given a strict orders not to, he allowed his six men 6-hour leave. The film follows these men in Berlin – the war-fatigued Metropolis filled with poverty, resentment, decadence, Communists and deserters – to show us kaleidoscope of lives under the modern war.
To put it simply, URLAUB AUF EHRENWORT is a better film than UNTERNEHMEN MICHAEL. It focuses on ordinary people whom I could relate to in one way or another. In some spots, I even found the film almost naturalistic, pleasantly beautiful. One of such scenes is the story of Private Hartmann and his wife, Anna. Wearing an over-sized uniform, she was shown driving a tram struggling with traffic. Private Hartmann surprised her from behind, and it was so sudden that he had to take over the handle to maneuver while she recovered from the shock. Within these few shots, we know how deeply they are bonded together, though the war has torn them apart. The film is full of these nuanced episodes, without resorting to preaching German morality. If there weren’t any Communist bashing in later scenes, I would have never believed this film was directed by the same man as UNTERNEHMEN MICHAEL or STUKAS.
Many Japanese reviewers and industry insiders, including directors and producers, saw this film uncut, and published favorable reviews before it was banned by the government. Reading their reviews, it seems they feared, either instinctively or impirically, or both, the film would pose problems for the censors. They knew the reactionary cultural elites would madly denounce the film, in which the soldiers behave like humans. Many reviewers couldn’t help but try to defend the film. For example, I noticed very peculiar uses of certain ‘phrases’ by some of them, containing the vocabulary of ultra-nationalistic lingo. They were definitely devised as double entendre, in order to pass the censors (of course, all the magazines were also under the scrutiny of government censorship), while they were meant as sarcastic denunciation of the regime. Here, I produce the excerpts from the review by Kazuo Watanabe:
“If we, Japanese People, were to become un-nationalistic, or anti-social after watching the uncut version of URLAUB AUF EHRENWORT, the masterpiece of our great ally, then it would be the Shame of the Nation and deplorable beyond imagination. If there were ‘Shameful’ people of such nature among us, then we need to prepare for the worst. In such events, it would be appropriate (for our government) to ban all the foreign cultural imports (including German and Italian), and to allow only purely domestic culture along the line of the national policy. Then, the government should issue the statement, decisively but in simple words, that this is not because the foreign culture (including German and Italian) is bad influence, but our People are dyspeptic prone to diarrhea and should be treated with potato porridge for the time being.”

Kazuo Watanabe (2)

I chose to spell ‘Shame of the Nation’ in capital letters to emphasize the phrase’s poisonous effect on people in this era. Used in public to humiliate someone by ultra-nationalists, it was an epithet to ostracize the person against the backdrop of the Imperial authority. Watanabe used this very phrase to point out the fundamental paradox of censorship – if we are people of the great nation, superior to the other races, why do we need to be afraid of bad influences? In the last sentence, Watanabe, being the authority of Francois Rabelais, was on the verge of blaspheming into scatological onslaught.
Considering that the very same month saw the release of DESTRY RIDES AGAIN in theaters across Japan, the censors did think this German film would be too hard on people’s stomach: they must have thought the Japanese people should be given an empty-headed entertainment, even if it starred our allies’ traitor, to be diverted from anything that provoke a mental process called ‘thinking’.
It is more revealing that a few month after this, Japanese government banned everything (including movies) from the Allies (meaning foreign countries except Germany and Italy). They ‘unified’ the entertainment industry to produce anything under strict control of the government. They did announce such a move in decisive but arcane language, saying that Japanese people need to be prepared for the total war. In another words, they thought they need to guide Japanese people to ‘the ultimate mission’, – since people were so inferior that they could not choose what was good for them.

(1) “Chikai No Kyuka (URLAUB AUF EHRENWORT)’, Kazuho Tokuda, Nihon Eiga, p.46, July 1941.
(2) “‘Chikai No Kyuka’ wo mite”, Kazuo Watanabe, ibid.

Two more ads: RUPERT OF HENTZAU and TRUST YOUR WIFE

Sometime ago, I posted the LITTLE LORD FAUNTRELOY advertisement page from an ancient Kinema Jumpo and the leaflet I found between its pages. Here are some other pages from the same issue.

The top image is the advertisement for RUPERT OF HENTZAU (1923), adaptation of Anthony Hope’s novel. Lewis J. Selznick produced this sequel to PRIZONERS OF ZENDA, directed by Victor Heerman, starring Lew Cody and Claire Windsor. It seems that no print of this film has survived. Here is the still of the film, from “A Pictorial History of the Silent Screen”.
Irving Cummings, Bryant Washburn, Bert Lytell, Elaine Hammerstein, Claire Windsor in RUPERT OF HENTZAU
According to the ad, Selznick gambled on this film, even ready for bankruptcy if this film fails. Well, his company went bankrupt in 1925. By the way, the film was released through Shochiku in Japan, and at the time of this ad, they were still looking for the appropriate Japanese title for this film. 
This film is more obscure. TRUST YOUR WIFE is, according to the AFI catalog, a 1921 production, directed by J. A. Barry, starring Katharine MacDonald. Unfortunately, this film seems to be the Mr. Barry’s last work. I don’t know if any print of this film survives, and even the comprehensive Progressive Silent Film List does not list this film. Beginning from DON’T CHANGE YOUR HUSBAND in 1919, there seems to be the streak of HUSBAND/WIFE titles during this period: WHY CHANGE YOUR WIFE?, WHY TRUST YOUR HUSBAND? THE TRUTH ABOUT HUSBANDS etc. According to this ad, this seems to be the story of a suspicious husband and a virtuous wife. Maybe too predictable even for 1921.

‘Mis’-interpretting UNTERNEHMEN MICHAEL

UNTERNEHMEN MICHAEL (1937)

Karl Ritter’s direction is skillful, but it is the soul of filmmaking that shine through more brilliantly than skill. The soul to make something complete is within him. A great filmmaker.

– Kenji Mizoguchi on Karl Ritter (1940)

I think Karl Ritter is overrated tremendously. When he handles a patriotic subject, he uses an extremely vulgar approach.
– Joseph Goebbels on Karl Ritter (1939)

In 1940, a German UFA production, UNTERNEHMEN MICHAEL was imported to Japanese market, only to be censored by the Japanese officials before its release in theaters. One of the leading movie magazines at the time, STAR, printed the round-table discussion on the film by prominent film artists – Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Tomotaka Tasaka, Tomu Uchida and Isamu Kosugi. They saw the original version before the censorship, and from their experience, they knew this film would be exorcised by Japanese censorship.

I didn’t quote these two remarks above to question Mizoguchi’s aesthetic taste or to highlight the Propaganda Minister’s cinematic literacy. Rather, what I want to emphasize is that it is possible for anyone to ‘mis’-interpret a piece of vulgarity under distorted social landscape and sickeningly sweet smell of self-sacrifice. I think, even though he must have been very careful about the choice of words fearing the keen eyes of the censorship, still Mizoguchi was trying to convey what he actually felt about the film and its director. So what impressed him so much?
Kinema Junpo’s top 10 foreign films in 1940 were [1]:
1. OLYMPIA I (dir. Leni Riefenstahl)
2. STAGECOARCH (dir. John Ford)
3. UNTERNEHMEN MICHAEL (dir. Karl Ritter)
4. ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (dir. Howard Hawks)
5. OLYMPIA II (dir. Leni Riefenstahl)
6. STANLEY AND LIVINGSTONE (dir. Henry King)
7. THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE (dir. Henry C. Potter)
8. GOLDEN BOY (dir. Rouben Mamoulian)
9. MEN WITH WINGS (dir. William A. Wellman)
10. LA CHARRETTE FANTOME (dir. Julian Duvivier)
The list suggests how highly regarded this film and its director were in this particular time in Japan. Today, almost nobody mentions Karl Ritter as a classic German cinema director in Japan.
In fact, I found UNTERNEHMEN MICHAEL is an incredibly static, boring film (I saw it without any subtitles, aided by detailed hypnosis provided by Akira Iwasaki [2]). Heinrich George, who played the General Commander, appears to be imitating the Fuhrer, to the point it is unbearably pathetic. Everyone is standing around, trying to look serious, and talking a lot. Near the end when you think this is just enough, the story starts to move, and some battle scenes ensue. You will find, however, one interesting character: Rittmeister Wengern, who distances himself from other officers with war-weary remarks, while playing Chopin on the piano. According to Akira Iwasaki, this must be the father of all the war-weary-German-officers-playing-Chopin-or-Beethoven-on-the-piano-found-in-a-war-ravaged-house characters [3].
Though the overall message of UNTERNEHMEN MICHAEL is clear – there will be unbearable sacrifices in a bloody war -, this Wengern character nonetheless adds the extra dimension to the story. “This approach is good, though we cannot do it in Japan”, said Tomotaka Tasaka, a Japanese director who made several propaganda films under the supervision of the government. “How (our) censorship reacts to this film will be the rule of thumb for us”, said Yasujiro Ozu, pondering how far he could go with his own expression. In the round-table discussion, it seems they all agreed that UNTERNEHMEN MICHAEL had an organic view of the war-torn world, something even likes of Ozu and Mizoguchi could not achieve under the political climate of the time.
I think there are a couple of reasons for UNTERNEHMEN MICHAEL censorship. Most of all, Japan was already at war for several years (1940), while Germany wasn’t at the time of its domestic release (1937). For Japanese military, any hint of defeatism – especially from an officer – must not be shown to the public. Though victorious headlines from the Chinese fronts were splashed all over the media everyday, Japanese Army was already losing many of its men. Even a minuscule virus of antiwar sentiment is contagious, especially when your fathers or brothers are exposed to ruthless bullets of the enemy. Dramatic license? Not understood, nor allowed. In addition, xenophobic elements seemed to exist among the cultural officials in government, stressing Japanese concept of honor and sacrifice was more superior to those in the West. They viewed themselves as a spiritually superior race though Germans might have superior industry and technology. It is more revealing that German newsreels (in 1940, the Germans were at war) were welcomed since they showed tanks, canons, fighter airplanes and other war-machines, which they thought would inspire younger generations.
It might have been that, under this political pressure on artistic creations, directors and writers were searching for an alternative escape hatch, through which they could build humanistic depths in two dimensional world of propaganda. They might have ‘mis’-interpreted Ritter’s description of the war room in more humanistic terms than it had been intended. From what I saw, this Wengern character was presented as questions we all have in our minds, but afraid to ask. To these timid questions – do we need to fight? -, the super-commander – Fuhrer – will answer with determination.
The film might have traced the similar path in Germany, if it had been filmed later, after the invasion of Poland. It might have scrapped the Wengern character altogether. It’s an old trick: Before the war, the propaganda has to be constructed carefully so that questions will be answered. Once the war started, no question is allowed.
[1] “Kinema Junpo Best Ten Entire History 1924-2006” Kinema Junpo (2007)
[2] Akira Iwasaki, “Hitler and Movie” Asahi Sensho (1975)
[3] He pointed out that Roberto Rossellini ‘imported’ this character to his ROME, OPEN CITY (1945) to create Captain Hartmann, who questions the power of Nazi’s method, while playing the piano (actually, Captain Hartmann is sitting next to the piano while the other officer is playing).