Tojo attempts suicide by shooting himself in the gut, but his life is saved by the Allieds, and soon is put on trail along with 27 other top Japanese ministers in front of the newly convened International Military Tribunal for the Far East around the time the Nazi war crimes tribunal in Nuremberg were undertaken.
A vengeful American prosecutor wants to destroy Tojo’s reputation in his homeland, successfully censoring the Japanese press reports about the trials to the point where he own children must flee to another part of the country and take their mother’s maiden name to hide from the shame the name Tojo has within the public, after Tojo’s grandson is mercilessly taunted by his teacher for being related to a man who is “worse than a thief”. The defense argues the war criminals are being unfairly tried by a form of “victor’s justice” group for acts which had not been criminal at the time they were committed, and could not be held responsible for what they had done as government officials. The 28 Japanese officials are, after a long trial, all found guilty and sentenced to die by hanging.
This is the structure in which Pride (Puraido, unmei no toki) investigates the real life story to a mostly satisfying resolution.
On a technical level, Pride is mostly masterful. The cinematography and musical score are profound, finding that necessary but usually neglected composure of power and grace. The acting amongst the lead actors is top notch. Masahiko Tsugawa, best known to American foreign film fans as the male lead in Juzo Itami’s A Taxing Woman films, stars as Tojo, bringing to the character a quiet honor to a man who acted out of responsibility and conviction, even if it wasn’t the best within the eyes of the world. Scott Wilson, who can ironically be seen on American screens this summer as General Marshall in Pearl Harbor, brings a strong presence to his role as Joseph B. Keenan, the lead prosecutor on the tribunal who is under orders from Douglas MacArthur to secure convictions. The great character actor Ronny Cox adopts an Australian accent to play Sir William Webb, the head Justice of the tribunal who tries often in vain to keep a balanced opinion within himself and the court he must lead, and Cox shows once again why he is one of America’s best vastly underused actors.
My main complaint about the film is within its editing. There are several subplots, most notably looks into the personal life of Tribunal Judge Radhabinod Pal, India’s representative to the multinational court, which could have been excised without losing anything relevant to the story. There are also several strange jumps back and forth through time (the tribunals took place in 1947 and 1948) into these unneeded subplots. Along with a restructuring to tell the story in a linear timeframe, removing several of these sequences would trim a good twenty minutes out of the two and a half hour film. making a good film into a haunting cinematic tour de force.
Made on a 1.5B yen budget (approx. $11M US, or three times the average budget for a Japanese film), Pride‘s 1998 release in Japan saw the film become a sensation, becoming one of the biggest homegrown hits of the decade with over 2.4B yen worth of ticket sales and causing a firestorm of controversy concerning liberties writer/director Shunya Ito and co-writer Hiro Matsuda took with historical accuracy. At one theatre where Pride played outside Tokyo, a screen was slashed by a group of protestors angered at the positive portrayal of Tojo in the film.
After fifty-something years, General Tojo’s place in history is still being argued, with as many people respectful of what Tojo wanted for his homeland as those who canonize him as a monster. For history buffs and those who enjoy good dramas, Pride is a film they will want to keep an eye out for when distributor Cargo Films rolls the film out through exclusive regional releases during the fall, starting with three playdates in Los Angeles, Pasadena and Riverside August 24th.Rating: B