Anatahan (1953)

ANATAHAN was Josef von Sternberg’s final film, shot in Japan in 1953 on a partially self-financed micro-budget, with a cast that didn’t speak any English. The “real life” story (heavily modified from a book by one of the survivors) is set on the Micronesian island of ANATAHAN, in the Marianas chain, where a group of Japanese soldiers are stranded in 1944. They discover a beautiful woman named Keiko living with what they assume is her husband and the war they’re fighting changes nature. It plays like a silent film, with Sternberg’s own narration providing the only English dialogue. Sternberg creates an island jungle out of matte paintings, hand made foliage, and shadows. It’s very slow, very strange, and strangely beautiful. As Tag Gallagher says in a visual essay on the Blu-Ray, the movie is best appreciated by people who’ve been made fools of. That could be said of many of Sternberg’s films, which are almost universally about the mysterious humiliations of love and desire.

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