Japan had been one of the largest market for European and Hollywood films in the Eastern hemisphere until its totalitarian regime attacked the Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941. Though the government was hostile toward the Allies, Japanese film exhibitors were still importing and marketing Hollywood films even in 1941.
Here are the pages from the magazine called “Nihon Eiga (Japanese Film)”, July 1941. Two Hollywood films were featured in the special section: THE RAINS CAME (1939) and THE UNDER-PUP (1939). THE RAINS CAME was the 20th Century Fox production directed by the seasoned professional, Clearance Brown, and featured Myrna Loy and Tyron Power. So it is understandable for the importers to expect this would be a hit despite the unfriendly atmosphere toward Americans at the time. I haven’t seen THE UNDER-PUP, but according to the article, it was a feature-debut for Gloria Jean, “Deanna Durbin, II”, who had “special talents but a bit vulgar compared to Durbin”. It seems they marketed this for young audiences.
However, the most visible presence in Japanese market at the time was German films. There was a four-page article in June 1941 issue, titled “Recent German Films” reported by Mamoru Watanabe, who lived in Berlin. These are the films he discussed in the article:
OPERETTE (1939) dir. Willi Forst
JUD SUSS (1940) dir Veit Harlan
DER ZERBROCHENE KRUG (1937) dir. Gustav Uchisky
DER HERZ DER KONIGIN (1940) dir. Carl Froelich
DER LIEBE AUGUSTINE (1941) dir. E.W. Emo
FRIEDRICH SCHILLER – DER TRIUMPH EINES GENIES (1940) dir. Herbert Maisch
CARL PETERS (1941) dir. Herbert Selpin
DAS FRAULEIN VON BARNHEIM (1940) dir. Hans Schweikart
WUNSCHKONZERT (1940) dir. Eduard von Borsody
BISMARCK (1940) dir. Wolfgang Liebeneiner
I guess some of the films above must have been released in Japan, along with many short documentaries produced by the Nazi Propaganda Ministry under Joseph Goebbels. It was said that German films at the time had tremendous impact not only on Japanese film industries but also on Japanese people. Leni Riefensthal’s OLYMPIA was opened in movie theaters around Tokyo in 1940, to the critical acclaim. Its ecstatic visual overwhelmed Japanese audience, who sincerely believed the Third Reich was the superior nation compared to other European ones and United States. The same June issue contains several reviews on URLAUB AUF EHRENWORT, a Nazi propaganda film directed by Karl Ritter. The reviews were all favorable, some of which called the film a masterpiece. Considering the film’s obscurity today, even as a propaganda film, this ubiquitous praise sounds quite bit eerie.
I would like to watch the film for myself and see what in the film impressed these critics back then.