FORGOTTEN HOLLYWOOD: Three Came Home (1950)

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20th Century Fox / Public Domain

It’s difficult to judge a performance, to articulate why some expressions or intonations worked while others do not. For me, the best performance I’ve ever seen on film was Sessue Hayakawa as Colonel Tatsuji Suga in the 1950 war film Three Came Home. The movie follows Agnes Keith (Claudette Colbert), an American writer being held in a Japanese POW camp run by Col. Suga.  Their interactions are cordial (he’s a fan of hers), but Agnes never forgets that he’s dangerous.

In this regard, the character is reminiscent of other roles Hayakawa played after World War II. He became typecast as the honourable Japanese officer, seen most famously in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). However, in most of those films, Hayakawa’s character rarely exists as separate from the American protagonist. In Three Came Home, he is allowed one final heartbreaker of a scene.

If you haven’t already seen the film, you might want to skip this paragraph. Japan has surrendered. Suga receives news of Hiroshima, where his family was staying. He gathers up all the children from the camp (including Agnes’ son) and drives them to his estate for a tea party. As the young ones gleefully devour the sweets, the camera holds on Suga, sitting off to the side, not participating in festivities. As the sounds of happy children play in the background, his façade slowly crumbles with sorrow. The real-life Suga committed suicide shortly after being captured by Australian troops.

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Sessue Hayakawa as Col. Tatsuji Suga │ 20th Century Fox / Public Domain

Ever since Hayakawa’s rise to stardom in the 1910s (he was the original Rudolph Valentino), he stood apart from his acting peers. Instead of continuing the theatrical excesses of the stage, he recognized the power of a closeup and how subtle changes to his expression could carry substantial weight. In my opinion, the level of control that he had over his face has only ever been matched by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. Those talents would continue into Hayakawa’s post-war “rediscovery.” For example, in Hell to Eternity (1960), he delivered an emotionally powerful speech entirely in un-subtitled Japanese. But, here, in Three Came Home, especially in that final scene, I believe that his talents saw their best implementation. For a few seconds, a man’s entire life passed across his face, wordlessly conveying more pathos than an entire monologue.

If you want more stories about surviving a Japanese POW camp, be sure to check out Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand, 2011) from the 2AD Memorial Library. You can also reserve a copy of Agnes Keith’s original account of these events: Three Came Home: A Woman’s Ordeal in a Japanese Prison Camp (Agnes Newton Keith, 1948). The film is in the public domain and can be watched for free on the Internet Archive:

-Francis

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Filed under American Culture, Uncategorized, World War 2

This Week in History

While we normally focus on WW2 or older US History in conjunction with American Culture I thought it would be nice to briefly discuss some of the more recent coalition actions performed by the US and the UK in alliance. In this week, 1991, Operation Desert Shield which protected Saudi Arabia from Iraqi aggression shifted to the offensive. This offensive, known as Operation Desert Storm, began January 17th with the counter-invasion of Kuwait by allied coalition forces with the goal being to liberate the country. This swift and united action, the first of its kind since the fall of the USSR and ending of the Cold War for the US, resulted in a freed Kuwait and the Iraqi army being forced back within their own borders.

The opening moves of this offensive would have been readily recognizable by any member of our own esteemed 2nd Air Division. A widespread bombing campaign of militarily important targets, a tactic largely unchanged since WW2, was used to cripple the Iraqi ability to continue hostilities. Also, similarily to WW2, ground offensives were held until the men in the skies had done their job; sometimes as many as 2,500 missions a day making it a very busy job indeed. This intensive and focused air campaign allowed the ground forces to declare victory within just 100 hours of their involvement, a feat which would likely would not have been possible without the skills and techniques developed by the Air Force in WW2 and honed since.

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RECIPE: Banana Bread

As you might have been able to tell from my last recipe, I like sweet breads. While pumpkin bread may be a seasonal treat, banana bread can – and should – be enjoyed year-round.

  • 75 grams of butter (room temperature)
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3-4 overripe bananas (mashed)
  • 1/3 cup of water
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 2/3 cups of whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp of baking soda
  • ½ tsp of salt
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup of chopped nuts (optional)

To start, preheat your oven to 170°C. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. You can use an electric mixer, a fork, or your hands. Once the first two ingredients are combined, stir in the eggs, bananas, and water. You will want the bananas to be a ripe and mushy as possible. Next, add the dry ingredients and mix until a consistent dough forms. If you want, you can add chopped nuts at this point, but I don’t think the bread needs it.

Like the pumpkin bread, you pour the dough into a large greased loaf pan and let bake for 20-25 minutes. Again, you should cover the top of the bread with tin foil in order to prevent the crust from burning. Bake for another 30-40 minutes or until the inside is fully baked. Use a knife to check for any raw dough in the centre of the loaf. Let sit in the pan for another 10 minutes before moving it to a cooling rack. Once the bread is around room temperature, cut into slices.

Enjoy! And be sure to check out our collection of American cookbooks at the 2AD Memorial Library.

-Francis

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America’s Answer to Pratchett

Today I’d like to talk about one of my favorite new American authors, A. Lee Martinez. For any who like the insightful satire Terry Pratchett used when dealing with matters of high fantasy Martinez does in stories taking place in the modern. Able to poke fun at the subject matter while simultaneously writing a love letter to monsters, elves, rogue gods, and animal side kicks the likes of which entertained so many when they were young.

He wrote his first book, Gil’s All Fright Diner, while taking a creative writing class and with its success it seems he has never looked back. What I perhaps enjoy and admire most deeply about his writing is that each of his novels is stand-alone requiring him to create a new world with each story told. While most authors create one world and then expand it I find it truly remarkable to time and again create engrossing and novel takes on fantasy tropes and create literary worlds which suck the reader in.

Whether you want to read about hillbilly vampires and werewolves unwittingly saving the day, an employee for the cryptozoological animal control service, or a dating-service-like process for choosing a deity I highly recommend any and all of his works.

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Filed under American Culture, Books, Uncategorized