Blood on the Sun
Genre: Noir, Political Thriller
James Cagney stars as a tough newspaper editor in Imperial Japan, bent on uncovering a conspiracy within the Japanese government for world conquest.
Blood on the Sun is a forgotten classic from a bygone age, and a must-see for any fan of film noir. They really don’t make films like this one any more, which is unfortunate. Times were different back then, when you needed more than just a camera and some friends to put a movie together. With brilliant photography and sharp dialogue, Blood on the Sun is a fine example of the genre. However, to be totally fair, this was also an era before feminism or any kind of political correctness. Villains portrayed in yellow-face with ludicrously forced accents are definitely noticeable and a little difficult to watch in the modern age. Although based on historical events and documents (which they themselves are questionable), one wonders just how accurate the portrayal of Japanese culture is in this wartime film.
Social issues aside, Blood on the Sun is superbly produced, even winning the Oscar for Best Art Direction. The use of lighting for dramatic effect is stunning, and the score, while not exceptional, fits as a product of the time period. Cagney is fantastic in the leading role, exemplifying the Tough Guy role he was known for. He plays an idealized American male, rough and brash, but always sound in his judgment and his principles. Silvia Sidney’s role of the leading lady is melodramatic at times, but otherwise satisfactory for the character as written. As mentioned, don’t expect much in terms of the modern feminism in this movie. The villains of the tale, led by John Emery and Robert Armstrong, deliver the poorest performances of the film, mostly due to their failure to produce a believable Japanese accent.
Impressively, Cagney insisted on doing his own stunt work for the film, and studied judo extensively under John Halloran, an officer with the LAPD, and Ken Kuniyuki, a leading sensei in the Southern California area. While fight choreography has definitely progressed a long way from the 1940s, the action is still impressive as one of the earliest martial arts movies in history, and probably the first to show judo to Americans. Cagney’s judo skills were strong, and he demonstrated it to great effect in the film’s fight scenes. He has even been quoted as saying he loved judo so much that he continued to practice it long after the production was finished.
While carrying of the social baggage that comes with aging for 65 years, Blood on the Sun is still a great film even today, and worth watching as both a piece of history and just a fun popcorn movie.