Japanese War Bride (film)


Title Japanese War Bride
Date 1952
Director King Vidor
Producer Joseph Bernhard
Screenplay Anson Bond; Catherine Turney
Starring Shirley Yamaguchi (Tae Shimizu); Don Taylor (Jim Sterling); Cameron Mitchell (Art Sterling); Marie Windsor (Fran Sterling); James Bell (Ed Sterling); Louise Lorimer (Harriet Sterling); Philip Ahn (Eitaro Shimizu); Sybil Merritt (Emily Shafer); Lane Nakano (Shiro Hasegawa); May Takasugi (Emma Hasegawa); William Yokota (Mr. Hasegawa)
Cinematography Lionel Lindon
Editing Terry O. Morse
Studio Twentieth Century-Fox
Runtime 91 minutes
IMDB Japanese War Bride

1952 movie directed by King Vidor about a white Korean War veteran who returns to his California home with a Japanese war bride. The couple faces subtle and overt opposition from his family and friends that comes to a head when the couple has their first baby. A Nisei neighbor discusses his family's wartime incarceration, one of the first mentions of this topic in any Hollywood film.

The film begins in Japan, where Jim Sterling (Don Taylor) recovers in a hospital from wounds suffered in the Korean War. He becomes smitten with an English-speaking Japanese nurse, Tae Shimizu (Shirley Yamaguchi), and after a brief courtship, asks her to marry him. After getting grudging permission from her grandfather (Philip Ahn), the couple return to Jim's family farm in Salinas, California. Jim's family—his parents, and two brothers, one newly married to a woman who had had a high school crush on Jim—along with their friends have varying degrees of difficulty accepting Tae. In particular, his new sister-in-law Fran (Marie Windsor) makes it clear that she doesn't approve and soon begins actively trying to make things difficult for the couple. In the meantime the Hasegawas, a neighboring Japanese American family, warmly greet Tae. As Jim makes plans to build a new house for Tae, she announces her pregnancy. Upon the baby's birth, Jim's father receives an anonymous letter that suggests that the father of the baby is not Jim, but the Nisei neighbor Shiro Hasegawa (Lane Nakano). Will their marriage survive this latest obstacle?

When Tae goes out to pick mushrooms with Jim's teenage brother, they run into Shiro. When they had met earlier, he had mentioned that he had lived in Japan, so Tae asks him further about it. He tells her that he went to Japan before the war with a friend and got a good job there. But after the attack on Pearl Harbor, things changed. While his friend "went over on their side," Shiro refused to and was "put in prison along with some other Americans" until the end of the war. When Tae mentions that this "must have been a terrible blow to your family," Shiro tells her that they "had their own troubles," getting sent to "Tulare, a war relocation camp for the Japanese."[1] While his sister "understood," their father "was very bitter about it." Later, when Shiro and his sister drop off a wedding gift for Jim and Tae, their father remains in their truck, refusing to even acknowledge the Sterlings. Jim suggests that "he is still sore because some people tried to buy his land while he was in a relocation center." When his mother complains about Mr. Hasegawa's rudeness, Jim's father points out that his behavior was no different than that of one of her friends, who had earlier been unable to even speak to Tae due to her anger over her son's death in the Pacific War.

Co-screenwriter Anson Bond got the idea to do the movie about a war bride while working as a producer for Film Classics and hired Catherine Turney to write a script. Originally titled East Is East and set in World War II, Bond changed the backdrop to the then current Korean conflict. Bond was considering Shirley Temple for the female lead before learning about the well-known Japanese singer and actress Yamaguchi's presence in the U.S. and her desire to break into American movies. The film was eventually made by independent producer Joseph Bernhard, who hired Yamaguchi and assigned her the stage name "Shirley." Bernhard also hired well-known director King Vidor, who was known for films with "a progressive social conscience," including an earlier film, Duel in the Sun, that focused on an interracial romance.[2]

Production of the movie began in June 1951 with scenes shot in Salinas, climaxing with the final scenes of Tai and Jim on the Monterey coastline shot from a helicopter. The cast and crew returned to Hollywood to shoot other scenes—including the Japan scenes—in a studio. Japanese War Bride opened in January 1952, no doubt buoyed by Yamaguchi's high profile marriage less than a month prior to famous sculptor Isamu Noguchi.[3]

Despite Japanese American interest in the glamorous Yamaguchi, community response to the movie was relatively muted, relative to the euphoria that had greeted Go for Broke! just a few months earlier. While both movies depicted the racism faced by Japanese Americans, that racism is largely left unresolved in the rather bleak Japanese War Bride, while Go for Broke! shows the Nisei soldiers victory over racism. Pacific Citizen columnist Bill Hosokawa complained that the the movie "was pretty rough on war brides.... Aren't any of them happily adjusted... in this country? Or are we such an inhospitable people... [that] war brides... are doomed to a life of tears?" Historian Sarah Kovner argues that the film and its publicity "made Japanese wives increasingly visible in the United States." In her analysis of the film, Susan Zeiger points out that mainstream reviewers were troubled by the film's stark depiction of racism and that several critics imposed their own views on the film by reading it as a tragedy despite the apparently happy ending. The movie was also released in Japan under the title Higashi wa higashi—a direct translation of the original title—and received largely negative reviews there as well.[4]

Authored by Brian Niiya

For More Information

Lubin, Alex. Romance and Rights: The Politics of Interracial Intimacy, 1945–1954. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005.

Marchetti, Gina. Romance and the 'Yellow Peril': Race, Sex, and Discursive Strategies in Hollywood Fiction. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Palumbo-Liu, David. Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.

Zeiger, Susan. Entangling Alliances: Foreign War Brides and American Soldiers in the Twentieth Century. New York: New York University Press, 2010.

Footnotes

  1. The Tulare Assembly Center closed on September 4, 1942; nearly all inmates there went on to the Gila River, Arizona concentration camp, though there is no mention in the movie of any other camp besides Tulare. In real-life, Japanese Americans from Salinas were sent to the Salinas Assembly Center, then to Poston.
  2. Larry Tajiri, "Nisei USA: Love Story Via Hollywood," Pacific Citizen, July 14, 1951, 4; Larry Tajiri, "Nisei USA: And the Twain Shall Meet," Pacific Citizen, Sept. 1 1951, 4; and Pacific Citizen, Aug. 26, 1950, 3, all accessed on March 11, 2015 at http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19510714_004.jpg , http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19510901_004.jpg , and http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19500826_003.jpg. Yamaguchi Yoshiko and Fujiwara Sakuya, Fragrant Orchid: The Story of My Early Life, translated and with an introduction by Chia-ning Chang (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2015), 264; Susan Zeiger, Entangling Alliances: Foreign War Brides and American Soldiers in the Twentieth Century, (New York: New York University Press, 2010), 195.
  3. Pacific Citizen, June 9, 1951, 5; June 23, 1951, 4, and Dec. 29, 1951, 8, all accessed on March 11, 2015 at http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19510609_005.jpg , http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19510623_004.jpg , and http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19511229_008.jpg. Larry Tajiri, "Nisei USA: Japanese War Bride," Pacific Citizen, Dec. 1, 1951, 4 and Larry Tajiri, "Nisei USA: Japanese War Bride," Pacific Citizen, Jan. 12, 1952, 4, both accessed on March 11, 2015 at http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19511201_004.jpg and http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19520112_004.jpg.
  4. In his detailed analysis of the film, David Palumbo-Liu writes that "the film's attempt at settling issues of race, sexuality, but also of the internment, agricultural strife, and so on, is incomplete." David Palumbo-Liu, Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999), 226. Sarah Kovner, Occupying Power: Sex Workers and Servicemen in Postwar Japan (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2012), 65; Zeiger, Susan, Entangling Alliances, 196–97; Yamaguchi and Fujiwara, Fragrant Orchid, 281.