“Men cluster to me like moths around a flame, and if their wings burn I know I’m not to blame” So sang Marlene Dietrich, one of the screen’s first femme fatales in Josef Sternberg’s The Blue Angel, (1930), one of seven films he made with her.
Twenty three years later he revisited the theme of the lethal siren with his last, and reportedly favourite film, The Saga of Anatahan, based on a true story and charting the sad decline in morals and humanity of twelve Japanese male sailors shipwrecked off the tiny three mile by one mile rocky, jungle-covered island of Anatahan in June 1944 after their ship is sunk by American planes.
The men quickly discover another man and his young, attractive wife living on the island, along with how to brew wine from coconuts, a fatal combination as the sailors vie for the attentions of the young woman, something she obviously enjoys, and some end up paying with their lives as jealousy fuels violence and discipline irretrievably breaks down. The finding of a wrecked plane and a couple of guns with ammo also alter the positions in the power struggle.
The film was made in Japan with all the dialogue in Japanese and a voiced-over narration in English by Sternberg himself. We found it an engrossing tale of survival, like a good book that’s very hard to put down, and like Lord of the Flies which it resembles.
The Saga of Anatahan was released in a dual format Blu-Ray/DVD presentation by Eureka Entertainment in August as part of their Masters of Cinema series. The substantial special features include a visual essay, an interview, unused footage, an essay by Philip Kemp and US Navy footage of the actual survivors of Anatahan, immediately after their surrender.