Togo at the Movies (1923)

From Admiral Togo: Nelson of the East, by Jonathan Clements. Available now in the UK and soon in the US.

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Togo the former samurai was brought face to face with a development of the new age – the motion picture. La Bataille (in America, Danger Line) directed by E.E. Violet, was the international star-studded epic of its day, the tale of the Japanese Marquis Yorisaka (Hayakawa Sessue) who suspects his wife of having an affair with the English captain Fergan (Felix Ford). The vengeful Yorisaka has Fergan transferred to his ship, and when wounded in action, orders the neutral Englishman to take charge of the ship. The film was an unabashed weepy, a refashioning of Othello, in which the wounded Marquis later discovers that his wife had been faithful to him, and seeks a tearful reconciliation. However, when screened to an audience of Japanese dignitaries by the well-meaning Viscount Ogasawara, the film’s scenes of naval combat had an unexpected effect on Admiral Togo. The sobbing Togo bolted from the theatre, confessing afterwards to Ogasawara: ‘Many of the men around me died in just that way. Do you think I can keep myself from weeping when I see the sight? It does not matter if it is a movie picture.’

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And for readers in the London area there’s still time to book yourselves a place at my free lecture on Wednesday at the Japan Foundation, Johnny Chinaman: Admiral Togo and the British. I guarantee at least one joke at the expense of Essex.

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