The Tokyo Trial, in which Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, who led Japan into World War II, and 27 other government officials were arraigned before the Int’l Military Tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other charges, is re-examined in this powerful, controversial, revisionist courtroom drama. Pic has been a major success in Japan since it opened in late May.
For Western viewers, the provocatively titled “Pride” is filled with material diametrically opposed to the “official” view of history, which will make pic the target of veterans’ groups and others wherever it’s shown. There’s a distinct anti-U.S. bias to the movie, yet the material is so fascinating that it deserves to be seen and discussed. It was quietly received at its international preem during the Brisbane Film Festival.
Choice of Brisbane as the first venue for foreign screening was interesting because the judge who presided over the tribunal, Sir William Webb, hailed from that city and was, at the time of the trial, chief justice of the State of Queensland. In “Pride,” the character is played with authority by American actor Ronny Cox (who could, however, have used a coach to improve a truly terrible attempt at an Aussie accent).
According to the film, the 1946-48 trial was unfair and the results preordained. Tojo (Masahiko Tsugawa) is presented as a pacifist reluctantly drawn into the war when he felt he had no option; fiercely loyal to the emperor he literally worshipped as a god, he was, according to the film, a devoted husband, father and grandfather more interested in his vegetable garden than in politics.
Most of the film unfolds in the courtroom, which has been meticulously re-created by production designer Akira Naito with precise attention to detail. Twenty-eight were charged with war crimes because the courtroom could seat no more than that number of prisoners. And because the prisoners did not comprehend Western notions of justice, they were assigned American defense lawyers, who, somewhat provocatively, often clashed with American prosecutor Joseph B. Keenan (Scott Wilson).
Screenplay by Hiroo Matsuda and director Shunya Ito makes much of the fact that the Indian member of the tribunal, well played by Suresh Oberoi, was quite sympathetic to the Japanese cause (and was, ultimately, the only judge to deliver a not-guilty verdict).
The film asserts that Japan’s reason for invading much of Southeast Asia was to free the people of the area from colonial rule, and that many Indians, including the tribunal judge, had hoped Japan would help liberate India from the British.
Another controversial point strongly made in the film concerns the “rape” of Nanking, in which Japanese troops massacred Chinese civilians. The screenplay sides with Tojo in asserting that this never happened, and the testimony of witnesses is deemed hearsay evidence that should never have been allowed as testimony.
Throughout the pic, Tojo’s apparently sincere and reasoned arguments are contrasted with the bitter antagonism of Wilson’s Keenan, who sees himself on a mission to restructure the crushed nation to prevent Japan from being a military threat again. Tojo rejects comparisons between the Japanese militarists and the Nazis.
Clashes between Webb and Keenan punctuate the film, with Keenan insisting that the Australian (seen as something of a lush) is being soft on the defendants and is dragging out the trial, much of which takes place in stifling heat in a building lacking air conditioning. These scenes are marred, however, by Wilson’s stridently twitchy performance and by Cox’s wildly variable Aussie accent.
Much of “Pride” is seen through the eyes of two “ordinary” Japanese, lovers who are waiter and waitress at the hotel where the members of the tribunal are staying. These “innocent” characters presumably provide a bond with the contemporary Japanese audience.
“Pride” compares interestingly with Masaki Kobayashi’s 1983 production “The Tokyo Trial,” which culled newsreel archives to present a four-hour-plus survey of the tribunal. Many of the events shown in Kobayashi’s film are re-created here.
Pic’s different spin on famous events of the Pacific war is at times quite disturbing but is nonetheless fascinating and makes for most effective drama. For the non-Japanese viewer, elements of “Pride” will be both puzzling and infuriating, and pic’s domestic success can’t help but be a bit unsettling.
Ultimately, the message is that Japan should be proud of Tojo, who was a victim of circumstances and not a war criminal. It’s a point of view not many outside Japan will share, but the film provides plenty of evidence in support of its attitude.
Handsomely produced pic was partly shot in India, where several key scenes unfold. The reported $11 million budget is certainly up on the screen.
The Asian actors, on the whole, acquit themselves more successfully than their American counterparts, with Tsugawa convincingly portraying the noble Tojo and Ayumi Ishida touching as his frightened but loving wife.