When German forces invaded Poland (*1) on November 1st, 1939, it marked the beginning of the Second World War in Europe. Meanwhile, the Second Sino-Japanese War had been going on since 1937. With war underway across the ocean on either side of the United States, Congress continued to demand American neutrality, while the public was split into non-interventionists and interventionists. Then in 1940, when German forces occupied Paris (*2), and then subsequently began air raids over Great Britain (*3), it started to become clear that the U.S. was on a course to war. The day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, the U.S. declared war on Japan; a few days later, Axis powers Germany and Italy each declared war on the U.S., and the U.S. responded in kind. There was no turning back.
*1 The Invasion of Poland started on September 1st, 1939, and lasted until October 6th, when Germany and the Soviet Union divided and annexed the whole of Poland under the German-Soviet Frontier Treaty.
*2 The German invasion of France is called the Battle of France, and lasted between May 10th and June 25th 1940.
*3 The German bombing campaign against the U.K. in 1940 and 1941 is known as the Blitz.
In the famous last scene of the 1970 war film Tora! Tora! Tora! (*4), an American-Japanese co-production depicting the attack on Pearl Harbor, Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku (*5), played by actor Yamamura Satoshi (*6), laments the fact that Japan’s declaration of war arrived after the attack began (the Japanese Embassy in Washington had some trouble transcribing the message, and had delivered it too late). His final lines are as follows: “I can’t imagine anything infuriating the Americans more. I fear all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” (The U.S. would call it a “surprise” or “sneak” attack, and use it to boost American morale.)
*4 Tora! Tora! Tora! Is a 1970 epic war film dramatizing the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The American sequences were directed by Richard Fleischer, while the Japanese ones were directed by Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasaku.
*5 Yamamoto Isoroku (1884-1943) was a Japanese Marshal Admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet during World War II.
*6 Yamamura So (1910-2000) was a Japanese actor and film director.
While Yamamoto may very well have felt that way, there is no actual evidence that proves he made the statement verbally or wrote it down. In Japan the common consensus is that he did not say those words; in fact, Yamamoto himself was deeply apprehensive about Japan’s prospects in a war. In the U.S., most students will learn the “sleeping giant” metaphor in their high school world history class. A version of these words would also appear in Michael Bay’s (*7) 2001 film Pearl Harbor (*8), and Roland Emmerich’s (*9) 2019 film Midway. The discrepancy is an example of how history is written by the victors, as well as a demonstration of the power and influence of cinema on how we see reality and remember the past.
*7 Michael Bay (1965-) is an American movie director known for big-budget action films featuring extensive use of special effects.
*8 Pearl Harbor (2001) is an American romantic war drama film directed by Michael Bay and starring Ben Affleck, Josh Harnett, and Kate Beckinsale.
*9 Roland Emmerich (1955-) is a German film director known for disaster films.
*10 Midway (2019) is an American epic war film about the Battle of Midway, directed by Roland Emmerich and starring Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, and Aaron Eckhart.
The attack on Pearl Harbor turned U.S. public opinion in favor of entering the war, and united the country behind the flag. (In actuality, U.S. code breakers had already deciphered and translated most of the message Japan was scheduled to deliver, and all three of the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s aircraft carriers had been moved out to sea. Some theories argue that the U.S. allowed the attack to occur and utilized it as propaganda in order to stoke public support for the war.) Nevertheless, the now awoken giant would need sustenance to carry it through the subsequent years of fighting on multiple fronts. That sustenance was provided by Hollywood, which would throw its full might into boosting U.S. morale and focus.
When motion pictures and cinema were invented in the late 19th Century, the earliest films to be produced were silent black and white shorts that were between less than a minute to several minutes long. Due to the restrictions of the format at that point, the content of those films was not narrative—it was mostly single-shot stationary clips of real life and simple restagings. The Lumière Brothers (*11) sent cameramen around the world to film footage of natives from primitive regions for essentially ethnographic purposes. Their footage, called “actualities” or “actuality films”, would be the beginning of what we now call documentary filmmaking. Meanwhile, across the pond in the U.S., Thomas Edison (*12) had vaudeville and circus performers come into his studio so that he could capture their acts. In 1894, he filmed two boxers restaging a fight for his camera in the studio; the footage is considered the first ever footage of sports. (Boxing was the ideal sport to film given the technology at the time, as boxers only move around within the limited space of a ring.) As various different companies continued to shoot and show their films, movies would gradually become a way that people got their news.
*11 The Lumière brothers to invent the first commercially viable projector, the Cinematographe, in 1895
*12 Thomas Edison (1847-1931) was an American inventor and businessman considered to be America’s greatest inventor.
Newsreels (*13)—short films covering the news and current affairs—were pioneered by the French businessman and movie producer Charles Pathé and his brothers. After seeing the phonograph invented by Thomas Edison demonstrated at his local town fair, he purchased some machines to resell and founded a company that manufactured and sold phonographs. After seeing Edison’s Kinetoscope in London, Pathé expanded the company’s business to distributing cinema projection equipment. After the turn of the century, the company set out to design an improved studio camera based on the designs patented by the Lumière brothers. By 1910, their network of movie theaters had expanded across Europe and even to New York, Australia, and Japan. At that point they were dominating the European camera and projector market.
※13 Newsreels are called ニューズ映画 (nyuusu eiga) in Japanese.
※14 Charles Pathé (1863-1957) was a pioneer of the French film and recording industries.
In 1908, the company invented the cinema newsreel with its series Pathé-Journal, which was shown as part of the program at theaters in France and the U.K. The newsreels were silent, about four minutes each, and released once every two weeks. One of their most famous newsreels captured Austrian inventor Franz Reichelt’s (*15) fatal parachute jump from the Eiffel Tower. Reichelt had designed and developed a wearable parachute, and believed that a high test platform would allow him to prove his invention’s efficacy. On February 4th, 1912, he climbed up to the first platform of the Eiffel Tower, adjusted his apparatus, and jumped; the parachute failed to deploy and he fell 57 meters to his death.
*15 Franz Reichelt (1878-1912) was an Austrian-born French tailor and inventor.
In 1912, Pathé started producing a newsreel series for American audiences, called Pathé Weekly. During World War I, the company’s newsreels became more and more popular, and for the first time newsreels were providing newspapers with competition. In an age when television had yet to be invented, newsreels were the only way that people could receive news in motion picture format. The form became so popular that certain movie theaters began showing newsreels exclusively.
Following the success of Pathé’s newsreels, Hollywood studios would gradually follow suit. In 1927, Paramount Pictures (*16) started producing Paramount News. In 1928, Fox (*17) started producing Fox Movietone News. In 1929, Universal Pictures (*18) started producing Universal Newsreel. Meanwhile, Pathé’s London and U.S. operations would be split in 1921, and Pathé Weekly would be produced by RKO (*19) between 1931 and 1947, and then by Warner Brothers (*20) between 1947 and 1956. All of these programs would continue into the 50s and 60s.
*16 Paramount Pictures is an American movie studio founded in 1912 by Adolph Zukor.
*17 20th Century Fox is an American movie studio formed from the merger of the Fox Film Corporation and the original Twentieth Century Pictures in 1935.
*18 RKO Pictures was an American movie studio that was founded in 1928. It ceased production in 1957 after an era of decline under the control of Howard Hughes.
*19 Warner Brothers is an American entertainment conglomerate founded in 1923 by by brothers Harry, Albert, Sam, and Jack Warner.
Time Inc., the publisher of its namesake weekly news magazine Time since 1923, started producing a 30-minute weekly radio news documentary and dramatization series called The March of Time in 1931. The series became one of radio’s most popular programs and led to a boost in the magazine’s print circulation. In 1935, the company launched a short film series based on the radio series. Compared to standard newsreels, The March of Time was twice as long and incorporated interviews, reenactments, and a subjective point of view—another predecessor to the modern documentary. Unlike newsreels, which were mostly produced by movie studios, The March of Time was a journalistic endeavor, founded in American ideals of liberalism and progress and very much anti-Facist and anti-Communist in its stance.
The first newsreel series produced in Japan is said to be movie studio Shochiku’s (*20) Shochiku News in 1930. As talkies became the dominant form of cinema in the mid 1930s, the production of newsreels in Japan shifted from movie studios like Shochiku to newspaper companies. Between 1941 and 1945, control over the newsreels was essentially relinquished to the Army and Navy ministries to serve their propaganda (*21) purposes. After the war, control was given back to the newspaper companies, but it wasn’t long before television entered Japanese homes and newsreels went into decline. Still, while most American newsreels had ended production by the 1960s, some of the newsreels produced by Japanese newspaper companies continued production into the mid 90s.
*20 Shochiku is a Japanese movie studio, cinema chain, and production company that was founded in 1895.
*21 Propaganda is media or content that is used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda (often political).
During World War II, newsreels would come to play an important role as a propaganda tool to manipulate public opinion and boost morale in countries around the world.
世界初のニューズ雑誌として知られる「タイム」を出版していたタイム社は、1週間のニューズをレイディオ・ドラマ化した30分のレイディオ番組「The March of Time」の放送を1931年にスタートさせます。この番組の人気をきっかけに雑誌の部数も大幅に伸びたと言われています。1935年よりタイム社は、同シリーズのニューズ映画版を製作するようになります。他のニューズ映画に比べて2倍の長さがあったこのシリーズは、インタヴュー映像や再現映像、主観的な視点を積極的に取り入れたことで、ドキュメンタリー映画の先駆けとなりました。映画会社の視点から製作されていた他のニューズ映画と違って、この「The March of Time」はジャーナリストの視点から製作されていたため、アメリカ的な進歩主義を掲げ、反ファシズム、反コミュニズムの視点が強調されていたことも注目すべきポイントです。
Newsreels were shown between the featured films in movie theaters, usually alongside animated shorts.
The history of animation in the way we think of it today starts in the first half of the 1800s, more than half a century before the advent of movies. In the 1930s, the stroboscopic disc was one of the first to demonstrate the principle of modern animation, with sequential images put on a disc that when rotated gives the optical illusion of movement. Soon thereafter, the zoetrope introduced the idea of viewing the movement through slits or peepholes. In 1868, the British inventor John Barnes Linnett patented the kineograph—a flip book. Kineograph is Greek for “moving picture”.
When movies were invented in the late 19th century, the main appeal for audiences was the realistic details of the picture. It would not be until the 1910s, when silent films had become widespread, that hand-drawn animation on film would reach movie theaters. The animation industry would grow and become commercialized throughout the decade. In 1919, Australian-born cartoonist and movie producer Pat Sullivan (*22) and American animator Otto Messmer (*23) produced an animated short for Paramount Pictures that debuted a prototype of an anthropomorphic black cat that would come to be known as Felix the Cat. The character became animation’s first star character, popular among audiences of all ages. Many shorts were created throughout the 1920s, and the character remains a pop culture icon today—perhaps even more so in Japan than in the U.S.
*22 Pat Sullivan (1885-1933) was an Australian-American cartoonist, animator, and film producer.
*23 Otto Messmer (1892-1983) was an American animator.
As movies shifted from the silent era to the talkie era, Disney (*24) would rise to prominence. In 1928, it debuted the Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse characters in the animated short Steamboat Willie. In 1932 it debuted Goofy, and Donald Duck followed in 1934.
*24 The Walt Disney Company got its start in 1923 as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio.
While Disney was known for childish, clean-cut characters, Paramount Pictures created characters that were more targeted toward adult audiences. In 1930, it debuted the jazz-era flapper Betty Boop, a character that reflected the changing position of women in society and their embrace of sexuality. The character became animation’s first sex symbol; however, the implementation of the Hays Code (*25) in the mid 30s would force the studio to tone down the character’s sex appeal. As Betty Boop’s popularity started to wane, Popeye the Sailor’s popularity grew. The muscular, spinach-eating character, who was first debuted in a comic strip in 1929, started appearing in animated shorts in 1933.
*25 The Hays Code, or the Motion Picture Production Code, was a set of moral guidelines that Hollywood self-imposed on its movies between 1934 and 1968.
Warner Brothers started producing Looney Tunes cartoons in the early 1930s. It’s most iconic characters would come in the second half of the decade: Porky Pig, the anthropomorphic pig with the severe stutter, was introduced in the 1935 short I Haven’t Got a Hat, and quickly became the studio’s top animated star. 1937’s Porky’s Duck Hunt introduced the world to the screwball character Daffy Duck, and the iconic Bugs Bunny debuted in the 1940 short A Wild Hare.
Meanwhile, over at MGM (*26), animators William Hanna (*27) and Joseph Barbera (*28) would create a series of comedy animated shorts centered on the rivalry between a cat named Tom and a mouse named Jerry. The series became a worldwide hit, with its shorts garnering even more Academy Awards than both Mickey Mouse and Looney Tunes.
*26 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is an American movie studio founded in 1924 when Marcus Loew gained control of Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures, and Louis B. Mayer Pictures.
*27 William Hanna (1910-2001) was an American animator, director, producer.
*28 Joseph Barbera (1911-2006) was an American animator, director, producer.
When the U.S. joined the war in 1941, these animated characters were enlisted to help increase morale. The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government began turning industries around to wartime production and called on companies to support the war effort. Disney’s studio lot in Burbank was requisitioned as an Army anti-aircraft base to protect the nearby Lockheed (*29) factory. The studio was subsequently asked to produce educational and training films for the U.S. military. Meanwhile, over at Paramount, Popeye joined the Navy and appeared in animated shorts where he did battle with the Nazis and the Japanese navy.
*29 The Lockheed Corporation was an American aerospace company that was founded in 1926 and later merged with Martin Marietta in 1995.
American movie studios’ most popular animated characters were also used on military insignia as a way to boost morale. This practice started well before the Second World War; in the late 1920s, the U.S. Navy’s Bombing Squadron Two (VB-2B) adopted an insignia that depicted a giddy Felix the Cat carrying a bomb with a burning fuse.
Most of the feature films that Hollywood produced in the late 1930s either didn’t touch on the wars going on in Asia and Europe at all, or they only made reference to them in roundabout ways. But as the fighting raged on and the specter of war crept closer and closer to American shores, Hollywood directors started to address the war in more direct ways.
Since the early days of Hollywood, war films—which are inherently dramatic, cinematic, and epic—have been a critically and commercially popular genre. The first Academy Award for Best Picture (then called Outstanding Picture) was awarded to the 1927 film Wings, which is set during World War I and features some of the most realistic aerial combat sequences from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Even those early War films had the power to emotionally affect and inspire people—a power that certain people feared could lead America down the wrong path. Many religious groups argued that movies had the power to influence the American public’s behavior and values and had the potential to lead to moral decline. To placate those fears, Hollywood would agree self-impose the Hays Code and remove morally questionable content from their films (see CINEMA & THEATRE #029 for more on the Hays Code). Fear of new forms of media has existed throughout modern history; critics in the late 20th century feared that TV would corrupt the minds of younger generations, and critics in the 21st century have argued that the internet and social media are ruining the coming generation of Americans. It likely didn’t help that cinema is all about illusion.
For several years leading up to America’s entry into World War II, Hollywood was becoming increasingly cautious about the content of its films. The arrival of talkies in the 30s had transformed moviegoing into a national pastime, with over half of the adult population going to the theater at least once a week. There was a fear that Hollywood could stoke public opinion to shift towards intervention.
Many of the major studio heads and big-name movie directors were Jewish, or immigrants, or both. Filmmakers like Frank Capra (*30) and William Wyler (*31) grew increasingly uneasy as the Nazi’s swept across Europe. At the same time, studio heads did not want to lose the European market. Many would have preferred to stay neutral and uninvolved in the conflict.
*30 Frank Capra (1897-1991) was an Italian-American film director, producer, and writer.
*31 William Wyler (1902-1981) was a German-Swiss film director, producer, and screenwriter.
However, by mid 1940, German forces had occupied France, Belgium, Holland, and Norway, and they began bombing raids against London and other British cities. In June 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, effectively terminating the non-aggression pact it the two countries had signed just two years prior. As the Nazi occupation grew across the pond, Hollywood was finally pushed to a place where it could ignore the war no longer. Filmmaker Howard Hawks (*32), known for films like the screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby, directed Sergeant York (1941), a biopic about a decorated American war hero from World War I. The film became the highest-grossing film of the year. The aforementioned William Wyler directed Mrs. Miniver (1941), a drama that depicted how the war was affecting life in rural England and ends in a rousing sermon that characterized the war as a battle to protect the freedom of all people. In the middle of production, Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor. Frank Capra, unable to stand on the sidelines any longer, and determined to prove himself flew to Washington D.C. and began making a series of films with the goal of communicating to Americans “why we fight.”
*32 Howard Hawks (1896-1977) was an American film director, producer, and screenwriter.