Wednesday, October 12, 2011

48. DAWN OF FREEDOM - Philippine WWII Japanese Propaganda Movie

One of my interests is collecting Philippine movies during the war.  I was lucky to get these original movie photos of The Dawn of Freedom, a Japanese produced film about the battle of Bataan and Corregidor in 1942. The photos were pasted on a special album probably used by the producers for promotional purposes.  These classical movies are worth remembering because these were produced during a dark time of our history.

During the war the Japanese introduced a new role in the film industry – Propaganda

The Pacific War brought havoc to the industry in 1941. The Japanese invasion put a halt to film activity when the invaders commandeered precious film equipment for their own propaganda needs. The Japanese brought their own films to show to Filipino audiences.”  The films the Japanese brought failed to appeal to audiences the same way the Hollywood-made movies or the locally-made films did. Later on, Japanese propaganda offices hired several local filmmakers to make propaganda pictures for them. One of these filmmakers was Gerardo de Leon.

The war years during the first half of the Forties virtually halted filmmaking activities save for propaganda work that extolled Filipino-Japanese friendship, such as The Dawn of Freedom made by director Abe Yutaka and associate director Gerardo de Leon, Less propagandistic was Tatlong Maria (Three Marias), directed in 1944, by Gerardo de Leon and written for the screen by Tsutomu Sawamura from Jose Esperanza Cruz’s novel.

Despite the destruction and hardships of the war, the people found time for entertainment; and when movies were not being made or imported they turned to live theater which provided alternative jobs for displaced movie folk. The war years may have been the darkest in film history”

This period turned out to be quite beneficial to the theater industry. Live theater began to flourish again as movie stars, directors and technicians returned to the stage. Many found it as a way to keep them from being forgotten and at the same time a way to earn a living.

In 1945, the film industry was already staggering to its feet. The entire nation had gone through hell and there were many stories to tell about heroic deeds and dastardly crimes during the 3 years of Japanese occupation. A Philippine version of the war movie had emerged as a genre in which were recreated narratives of horror and heroism with soldiers and guerrillas as protagonists…audiences still hungry for new movies and still fired up by the patriotism and hatred for foreign enemies did not seem to tire of recalling their experiences of war.

Source:, History of Philippine Cinema


Japanese Title of the Film showing Bataan and Corregidor

December 8, 1941. Nippon, accepting the challenge of the Anglo- Saxons, rises in arms after having had to stand by for years watching rapacious America and Britain tread upon the enslaved peoples of East Asia.

Nippon expeditionary forces are rushed to various places in the vast areas of Greater East Asia in order to drive out the Anglo- Saxons. The first blow in the Philippines is death when Nippon warplanes raid Clark Field and Iba airfield on December 8.


Manila declared as Open City
 Large forces of Nippon troops carry out daring landing operation in the face of fierce gun-fire from the USAFFE. At Aparri and Vigan in northern Luzon on December 10, and at Legaspi and Davao on December 12, Nippon troops land successfully.

On December 22, huge Nippon contingents affect a landing on the shores of Lingayen Bay. Thus the Imperial forces commerce their advance toward Manila, the headquarters of the American armed forces in East Asia. The advance converges from three directions. Realizing that nothing can stop the Imperial forces, Manila in the radiocast declares itself an open city. A large streamer is hung up on the façade of the city hall. It reads:
“Open City; Stay At Home; Be Calm; No Skooting. – The Mayor.”

The Streets are filled with motor trucks laden with the USAFFE troops hastily withdrawing from the city. Tanks speed along thoroughfares, followed by crowds fleeing in disorder.


Lieut. Garcia, A Filipino officer of the USAFFE hurriedly returns to his home to bid farewell to his family prior to his departure for the firing line.

Replying to the pleas of his mother, the Filipino officer assures her that this is a war of justice. He promises his younger brother that he will triumphantly return home with the steel helmet of an enemy Nippon soldiers as a souvenir.

On the following day, USAFFE troops leave the city. Antonio Lt. Garcia’s younger brother, searches among the crowd for his brother when, suddenly, a handbill lying on the ground catches his eye.


As he troops to pick it up, he is knocked down by the speeding automobile of an American officer. Military trucks speed past one after another as he lies flat on the ground. 

Leaving behind them burning villages and wracked bridge, the USAFFE flee deep into the interior of Bataan. Having yet to face the Nippon forces in battle, these desperate troops frantically dig dugouts and gun installations.

Meanwhile, the Nippon forces immediately after entering Manila without bloodshed busily make preparations to crush the enemy troops, while at the same time they engage in guarding and constructing the desolated city.

The operation in Bataan which have been on since the middle of January, are further intensified. Driven deep in the jungle, the enemy troops offer stiff resistance but the inflexible spirit of the Imperial forces to take the offensive grows stronger with each passing day. The iron ring of the Nippon’s forces gradually tightens around the doomed enemy.           


 Meanwhile Captain Gomez of the USAFFE, who has been capture by the Hayami corps in the course of a night attack, is question by Commander Hayami. 

“What is meant by your Fatherland, to which you have pledged loyalty? Have you not tired to be faithful to the United States which has snatch your Fatherland away from you, rather that to the Philippines?” the Commander asks.

 Questioned further as to the American attitude toward the Filipinos and the so-called American benefits that had actually weakened them, Captain Gomez realizes his folly and begins to feel the growing consciousness of being an oriental.


Meantime, peace and order returns to Manila under the care of the Imperial forces, Nippon officers and men forge close friendships with the children of the city.

 During his off-duty days, sub-corporal Ikejima, instead of going out to seek his own pleasure. Goes out with his “Kami-shibai” a series of picture to entertain the children, relating wholesome stories to them.

Since his own younger brother back home is a cripple, Sub-corporal Ikejima has a deep sympathy for Antonio, the younger brother of Lieut. Garcia. The boy is still suffering from leg injuries he sustained on the day of the withdrawal of the USAFFE forces from Manila.

The Nippon soldier asks an army surgeon to operate on the leg of the Filipino boy, and goes so far as to offer his blood when the body came to need it following the operation.
Deeply moved by the kindness of the Nippon officers, the mother of Antnio tells the officer that Antonio’s elder brother is an officer of USAFFE and is now fighting against Nippon.

Sub-coporal Ikejima tells her that Nippon’s enemy is not the Philippines, adding that Nippons is playing for the early return of the Philippines to the true spirit of the Orient.

Antonio’s mother sheds tears profusely, deploring the misfortune of her son who is now shedding blood for the United States.

In the trenches of the USAFFE forces in Bataan, feelings between the Americans and Filipinos soldiers ran high.
Procently a voice is heard over the radio:

 “My dear son! Can’t you hear me calling you? I’ll not say my name lest you be punished by your American officers. But I’m sure you’ll know me by my voice!

 “I’m not speaking under the coercion of Nippon troops. We are now living peacefully in Manila which has regained its brightness. Contrary to America propaganda, the Nipponese officers and men are not at all cruel.

 “I have been told by Nipponese friends that the aim of the Nippon forces in the present war is to liberate us from American shackles.

“My dear son! Have faith in the words of your mother! Please give up your meaningless fight and come back to me!”

Hearing the voice of his dear mother, Lieut. Garcia leans dejectedly, against the side of the trench. Next Capt. Gomez steps before the microphone which has been set up on the battlefield. He speaks determinedly, urging his war comrades to awaken to the situation in which they have placed themselves.
Hit by a bullet fired by one of his compatriots from the enemy position, he nevertheless continues to shout as he lies wounded on the ground.

All appeals, for surrender proving to be futile, the Nippon forces commerce a general attack on the enemy, which includes Filipino officers and men who, failing to understand Nippon’s true intentions continue needless resistance.

In the enemy position in Bataan peninsula, which now face certain destruction form the Nippon forces, the American officers fire on the Filipino soldiers who seek shelter in air raid shelters “reserved” for Americans.

Hoping to save their own lives at the cost of those of the Filipinos, the American officers resort to all sorts of outrages.


As a pall of smoke hangs low over the battlefield following the termination of the battle, a Filipino officer is seen lying deed on the ground with a steel helmet clutch tightly in his hand. He is none other than Lieut. Garcia. Roughly scratched on the helmet which bears the mark “U.S.” are the words:

“My dear Tony! This is a souvenir I promised you – a steel helmet of my enemy!”

All the bodies of dead soldiers scattered around are those of Filipino soldiers. A long line of American officers and men with their hands raised high above their heads surges along the highway from the Mariveles mountains as war prisoners.


Completing the occupation of Bataan: the officers and men of the Imperial forces stand staring at Corregidor, the enemy’s last stronghold.

 Greeting the auspicious Birthday of his Majesty the Emperor April 29, 1942, the imperial forces fire 5,000 shells at Corregidor Island in celebration of the occasion, smashing everything above the ground.

FCP Yamada also embarks on a landing barge, bidding farewell to Captain Gomez.

Fully laden with crack officer and man, hundreds of barges head for Corregidor.

With their eyes glued on the enemy fortress, the intrepid officers and men do not flinch even though they are the target of enemy fire.

As they approach the enemy shore, the officer and mean plunge eagerly into the water to get at the Americans.

Stepping over the bodies of their fallen bodies, they go on. Nothing can stop their head long advances.

Coming upon an enemy machine gun which is hindering the advance of his comrades, FCP Yamada dashing forward, grasp the muzzle firmly with his hands and places it against his stomach by sacrificing his own life, the hero saves the life of many officers and men.
In the face of the fierce onslaught of the officers and men of the Imperial Army, the enemy troops lose their fighting spirit. Finally, they raised a white flag.

Yielding to the unswerving determination of the Nippon forces to fight unless the enemy surrenders unconditionally, Lieut. General Jonathan Wainwright, commander of the USAFFE forces agrees to the demands of the conquering Nippon General.


A few hours following the landing of the Nippon contingent, Corregidor has fallen at last. After the fall of the Island fortress, the regiment commander salutes in the direction of the Imperial Palace and falls his men.

 “Now I feel my true self. I will not die even if enemy bullets hit me. You also shouldn’t die. We will cease fighting only when we dictate our terms at Washington! Neither distance nor obstacles shall hamper us. Our operations in the Philippines are of great significance in that we have come to know the enemy’s true colors.

 “Our enmity and our indignation should be directed toward Washington beyond the Pacific! The war has only started.
Deeply move by the inspiring and fiery instructions of the Commandant the entire officers and men of the Nippon’s forces an immutably resolved to smite the foe to the finish.


In the meantime, the regiment of Ikejima is ordered to move on to another destination. He bids farewell to Antonio who has like a brother to him. Antonio is grieved to see his friend go for in his young life, he found no one so kind and considerate. Ikejima tells him to be brave and be a man and not to worry about him. That is a good soldier’s duty to move on when ordered to. That id he ever dies his spirit will be all over Asia. Before that when Ikejima was helping Tony to walk admonished him thus: “You see Tony, there are certain things that even a great doctor can’t do. If you cannot help yourself, nobody can help you. If you can’t smile, the whole world would not smile with you.”

Tony in his wheel chair scans the faces of the Japanese soldiers marching out of the city, looking for his friend Ikejima. They see each other Ikejima smiles at Tony. Tony in his desire to follow him, an inner force compels him to rise up from his chair. Slowly, painfully at first, then he takes a step, two steps, finally he walks, his eyes fixed on the retreating figure of Ikejima who does not know that his Filipino brother has walked at last.

  Inside a church in Manila, Mrs. Gomez, her new born baby in her arms, Tony, Mrs. Garcia are kneeling before the altar in solemn prayer for their love ones whom they have not heard of since they went to Bataan. At the portals a figure appears. It is Capt. Gomez looking for his wife. Mrs. Gomez as if forewarned looks back, and sees her husband kneeling behind. Her heart swelled in happiness for he is safe and sound. Suddenly the church bells ring – pealing for the “Dawn of Freedom.”

Other Photos of the Dawn of Freedom Movie

Filming of the Movie

Movie Advertisement in LIWAYWAY Magazine in 1944.  
"Down with that Flag" was the earlier title of the "Dawn of Freedom" movie
Movie Advertisement in LIWAYWAY Magazine in 1944

Movie Advertisement in LIWAYWAY Magazine in 1944.
"DOWN WITH the OLD GLORY" was the temporary title of the "Dawn of Freedom" movie 

Movie Advertisement in LIWAYWAY Magazine in 1944.
"LIWAYWAY NG KALAYAAN" was the Tagalog title of the "Dawn of Freedom" movie

Movie Advertisement in LIWAYWAY Magazine in 1944.
Shown at IDEAL and TIMES Theater

Movie Advertisement in LIWAYWAY Magazine in 1944

This article about the movie The Dawn of Freedom is from the  book: "Nippon ... Philippines ... Peace" by Abe Mark Nornes

The Dawn of Freedom (Ana hala a ute. also Fire on that Flag!) receives surprisingly scant attention from film historians, despite being one of the most popular and fascinating big-budget spectacles of the entire 15-Year War. We can attribute this to the fact that, unlike the other war films that one reads about in the history books. The Dawn of Freedom has been screened only twice since its initial release.

There is a simple reason for this: the film's prints were destroyed at the end of the war. Fearful of retribution by the Occupation forces, cameraman Miyajima Yoshio torched the Japanese prints as the Americans arrived on Japanese shores. Back in the Philippines, guerrilla fighters vented their anger at the Japanese by attacking prints of the film. However, as with all the other aspects of The Dawn of Freedom, cloak and dagger stories and fascinating historical twists surround the fate of the film. For example, we can thank General MacArthur himself for saving the Philippines' Tagalog / English version.

Upon hearing about a wildly successful Japanese propaganda film shot in the Philippines, he ordered the Filipino resistance to kidnap a print and smuggle it by ox cart and boat to Australia for his viewing pleasure.' Eventually this print ended up in the United States National Archives. where it is preserved and available for viewing. As for the Japanese version, Miyajima thankfully missed a print, enabling Toho to strike a new negative and re-release it on film and video for the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. With The Dawn of Freedom finally circulating publicly, we may consider the history of Japanese war cinema from a new perspective.

Making The Dawn of Freedom

As Japan collected new colonies around Asia and the Pacific, it renovated local film industries and created new ones where there were none before. These efforts on the Chinese mainland are well-known. However. despite a wealth of wartime books and magazine articles, researchers have yet to deal adequately with territories like Taiwan. South-East Asia, and the Philippines. The story of the Philippines is basically similar to the other Japanese colonies. The film industry ground to a halt with the invasion of Japanese forces. Most of the talent quit the capital intensive production of film and moved to live theater. The works they produced before the war have disappeared. save a few reels of film.

The Dawn of Freedom represents the first major co-production of the war. Contemporary reviews and publicity for the film made much of the pan-Asian cooperation. An ad in Eiga junpo proclaims. "Japan and the Philippines join hands to use film as a weapon!! Philippines independence ... Together, the Philippines and Japan rage with patriotic fervor, and here join as one!! It's must see! The Japan /Philippines co-produced. Magnificent, massive bullet!" Despite this rhetoric of happy cooperation, it is difficult not to notice that the photograph under the ad copy shows two Japanese soldiers holding a group of Filipinos at bay under gun point. Without seeing the film, one would not know the Filipinos were thieves caught by vigilant Japanese soldiers protecting the local population. Whether wittingly or not, the advertisement throws the terms of this "co-production" into question.

The nature of the Japanese-Filipino relationship in the making of this film is a difficult problem to approach. The advertisement above castes suspicion on the idea of "joining hands" in the midst of a military occupation. With the trustworthiness of wartime texts thrown into doubt, the historian might turn to living survivors (a strategy that will soon be impossible for the cinema of World War II!) With the help of critic Teddie Co, who tracked down the surviving cast members, I have been able to reconstruct the conditions of this coproduction. As we will see, The Dawn of Freedam offers us an opportunity to understand this slice of film history from a variety of approaches.

Shortly after the occupation of the Philippines, the Japanese moved to revive the film industry for propaganda purposes under the leadership of Sawamura Tsutomu and other people from the Japanese film world, They went to the theaters and rounded up the nation's best professionals and, depending on who you ask, invited or coerced them into work. This was how the Japanese producers formed the all-star cast and crew for The Dawn of Freedom. Though early in his career, Gerardo de Leon was already a major director; after the war, he would go on to become the most important film artist before the emergence of Lino Brocka's generation, Ricardo Pasion was a well-known child actor, as were the other children. Leopoldo Salcedo, Norma Blancaflor, and Fernando Poe were all stars before and after the war. Poe held particularly strong propaganda value for the Japanese because he had been a captain in the American military. This real-life switch creates a powerful resonance with the role of Capt.Gomez, who comes to realize the benevolence of the Japanese through the cruelty of the Americans and crosses the front lines. The two English-speaking" Americans" leads were, in fact, Filipino-Americans that worked in the pre-war film industry. Burt Leroy, The Dawn of Freedom's most despicable bad guy, was known for playing heavies; Frankie Gordon, the mustachioed American officer, dubbed songs for actors who couldn't in the early sound era.

As for their real-life relationship with the Japanese, we know a little from stories told by film artists who lived through the era. Salcedo was apparently caught spying for the Americans, and while his co-conspirators were executed, Salcedo himself was spared when his Japanese captors discovered he was the star of The Dawn of Freed am. The example of Leroy is more instructive. According to Co's  sources, the man playing Capt. Adams was not Leroy, but an actor identified as Johnny Arville, a radio personality that cooperated with the Japanese as an announcer for the "Neighborhood Hour" and the "Republic Hour." Further digging produced post-occupation intelligence reports confirming Arville's role in the film. These rather frightening interrogation summaries by the US 457th Counter Intelligence  Corps Detachment and the Philippines Department of Justice illustrate the difficult position media workers found themselves in." After Manila fell to the Japanese, Arville was asked to work for the Japanese and consented because he felt he had no choice. He admitted to his interrogators that the meager pay did help him support his family through difficult times. After the occupation, American and Filipino intelligence officers subjected Arville to more interrogation, comparing his answers to those of his colleagues. Apparently caught sabotaging Japanese radio equipment, he claimed he was imprisoned, interrogated and tortured by the Japanese. While he survived, his co-workers were believed to have been executed. The agents ominously note inconsistencies between Arville's stories and other   informants, but Arville was fortunate. His Filipino inquisitor finally determined he was a "victim of circumstance."

Bert Leroy was nowhere near as lucky, No one knows why he was taken off The Dawn of Freedom production, or why his name was left in the credits. According to film lore he died at the hands of the Japanese military in a most horrible fashion. While these stories point to the most intense aspects of life during the war, it must be pointed out that many Filipino and Japanese crew members on The Dawn of Freedom struck up close friendships, not least of whom were Abe Yutaka and Gerardo de Leon. The two directors maintained their relationship long after the war.

Another aspect of this "co-production" that the advertisement ignored was the on-screen appearance of hundreds of Allied prisoners or war. The capture of thousands of British and American soldiers created a convenient pool of extras.  Abe staged extraordinary documentary-like scenes of POWs reenacting their own surrender at Bataan and Corregidor. It has been assumed that this was one reason Miyajima burned the film's prints, for the POWs appear to be risking life and limb for the filming during battle scenes in which they run uncomfortably close to explosions. Watching these scenes, one must wonder how the prisoners were treated.

By networking through American veterans' groups, I have been able to find a few former prisoners of war who participated in the filming of The Dawn of Freedom. For example, E.S. (Ted) Lockard was one of the American extras for the opening scenes of Americans fleeing Manila. He had never told anyone about his wartime experiences as a POW, but the string of WWII anniversaries convinced him it was important to share his story: One day. I think it was in early 1943, they gave us new everything .- trousers, belts, shirts. Helmets, and guns (without. of course, the important stuff). They took us into the city, and we drove down the streets in these big trucks past big movie cameras, And you know the funny thing was, word about the filming had spread among the Filipinos, and they came out and just bombarded all our trucks with fruit and food. I think it was just a sign of the Filipinos' hope. It exasperated the Japanese. The guards told us they wanted all the new stuff returned. The next day, we were supposed to put everything in a pile. Well, what they found was every gun. every helmet, and the biggest pile of ragged, dirty clothing. For a few days, the guards gave us a hard time for keeping the uniforms, but all of a sudden they just quit.'

Weldon Hamilton acted in the Bataan surrender scene:

We had no idea what they wanted, they gathered us and sent us out with a bunch of food. We drove into the mountains to this open, hilly area. There were awfully tough looking troops around the outside of the area, but inside they were nice. They had us go over a ridge with all these explosions going off; I think they were just duds. you know, Then we had to walk over  this hill in a line, throw our weapons in a huge pile and act like we were surrendering. We were treated really nicely that day. It was a real outing ... like a picnic.

Burton C. Galde was a sailor before being captured. He also reenacted the surrender at Bataan:

I did a bit part in a Nip movie ... The Americans in charge sent out a different detail every day,so we could steal whatever we could. I stole the sling from the rifle I was to carry and used it for a belt. and the helmet for a wash basin. We were made to do a surrender act as we came over a knoll. We had the rifles over our heads as we marched by the cameras we threw the weapons in a pile. Oh! There were no bolts in them, The japs in charge spoke good English, and told us they had been trained in Hollywood by Americans [probably Abe Yutaka "- AMN].

They treated us pretty good. They weren't mean and we did fare somewhat better than we had back at camp. I am glad that some us survived so we could live to tell the tale of our life as guests of the emperor."

Watching The Dawn of Freedom

The Dawn of Freedom is unquestionably one of the finest and most effective Japanese films from the Pacific War, however, the historian is always hard-put to research how a film was received upon its release. The documents available as avenues to the past are difficult to trust. and there is always some measure of speculation mixed with one's analysis. Our approach to The Daunt of Freedom's spectators in the past might take three very different paths: film criticism, studio records, and the film itself.

By reading film criticism written upon The Dawn of Freedom's release. we may find some indication for how viewers responded to the film. Tsumura Hideo was one of the major critics during the war period, and frequently contributed articles to film magazines; he was also one of the few critics able to publish books during the Pacific War when restrictions on publishing became severe. In his review of The Dawn of Freedom, which he published in Eiga Hyoron in 1943. Tsumura was particularly fascinated by the scenes of violence.' He compliments the film for the quality of Leonardo Salcedo "being slaughtered in the mountains by an [American] plot: and the "spectacle of Filipino soldiers being annihilated by sweeping machine gun fire." The critic continues, "I said there are at least four magnificently intense and convincing depictions in The Dawn of Freedom. Except for the latter one, three describe the beauty of cruelty. Not only do they pursue the beauty of cruelty, but they attempted to create a new sublille beauty which can only be derived through the beauty of cruelty [Tsumura's emphasis]." Viewing  The Dawn of Freedom in the 1990s, audiences might wonder if Tsumura saw the same film. His reading of the film seems to heighten the action through hyperbolic adjectives. Perhaps we are deadened to this era's conventions of action in the age of Speed and Die Hard. However, it is just as likely that film critics like Tsumura were responsible for defining and encouraging a particular (or "proper") response to the war film. As an institution, film criticism was a crucial component of the context in which regular viewers saw films. Critics could potentially guide viewers to certain interpretations in powerful ways.

While viewers may be led to particular readings by critics, they are fully capable of thinking for themselves as well. A close look at another set of documents from another quarter of the film industry suggests the response to war films like The Dawn of Freedom was far from uniform. Toho Studio's own internal records reveal that The Dawn of Freedom one of their most popular films. At the same time, we must qualify this success because its popularity was centered in a specific group: men.

Film historians that concentrate on film content and production history to the exclusion of film viewership give us the impression of a unified, monolithic spectator that enjoyed the films of the war period.  In other' words, criticism that deals only with films and stars misses an equally important story: that of the audiences. Uncovering this hidden history is extremely difficult, which is one of the reasons few film critics attempt it. One of the few approaches to this history of the audience is through film studio records, precisely the most difficult documents to find access to. For example, during the war, many of the studios conducted detailed surveys of the people entering their movie theaters. Much to their frustration, Nippon Eigasha found that the numbers of women spectators for their wartime documentaries consistently remained in the 20% range" Toho's audience research corresponded to this, with an average of 37.94% for women and 62.06% for men in 19439 In fact. a close look at Toho's documentation suggests that the famous films which invariably appear in film history books as representative of the war period are precisely the ones women avoided. Hot Wind (Neppu), General Kato's Falcon Fighters (Kalo hayabusa sentotai), Toward the Decisive Battle in the Sky (Kessell ozora e). and Sugata Sallshiro, rarely drew more than 25% women. Instead, female moviegoers chose to watch films that rarely appear in our history books of the 1940s: films like The Way of Drama (Shibaimichi). Hallako-san, and others.'" Not surprisingly, the breakdown for The Dawn of Freedom came to 27.2% women and 72.8% men. From this we may conclude that The Dawn of Freedom's success was based primarily on the passion of a certain kind of spectator, men. We would do well to keep this in mind when reading contemporary critics like Tsumura and when watching the film today. We must be cognizant of the ways the film appealed specifically to its male audience.

In fact, examining the film itself its story and its style -- is the third way we will approach the history of The Dawn of Freedom. The narrative of The Dawn of Freedom is uncommonly complex for the Japanese war film, built as it is along lines of allegiance between Japan and America with the Philippines caught smack in the dangerous middle ground of the front line. The story provides us with an opportunity to address a common misperception about the Japanese war film: the absence of the enemy. In addition, the style of The Dawn of Freedom constitutes an archetypal example of the Japanese war film.

The Dawn of Freedom is particularly rich with images of self and other. The Japanese portray themselves as ethical, benevolent liberators, while the Americans are vicious and bloodthirsty. These bald stereotypes are to be expected in times of war, but what is really fascinating are the Filipinos caught in the middle. The plot separates friends and family across the front line. Divided loyalties provide an opportunity for Filipinos to "discover" the true nature of both friend and enemy. The plot thread involving little Tony and his brother in the American military reveals the various levels this theme plays out. At the beginning, Tony asks his brother to bring back an enemy (ie., Japanese) helmet, but in the course of the story both come to realize their enemy was actually the Americans. After an American truck nearly kills him, Tony receives kindness and even a blood transfusion (I) from a Japanese soldier, a internalization of race rhetoric deployed in propaganda of the Great Eastern Co-Prosperity Sphere. His ultimate recovery is a miraculous "raising from the dead," as he suddenly jumps from his wheel chair and joins his new Japanese compatriates as they march off to Corregidor. Later, Tony's brother is murdered by an American officer, and before he dies he scratches a message to Tony on his own (American) helmet, telling Tony the real enemies are the Americans. This complex discourse on friend and enemy mixed with the appearance of real-life prisoners of war -- amounts to a Japanese version of Know Your Enemy.

While it is widely assumed by film historians that the enemy rarely appears in Japanese war films, the example of The Dawn of Freedom suggests we ought to revaluate this claim. Nearly every Japanese war film features enemies. One reason for this misperception comes from the traditional privileging of image over soundtrack. Even when images of an enemy never reach the screen, the narrators and on-screen actors constantly talk about the "teki" (enemy). This is an appearance of the enemy that is invariably taken for granted. The sonic enemy is hateful and amorphous. It is out there and it is hateful (nikui) , but its nationality or race is often vague. These films are quick to point out that the enemy hates Japan and threatens Japan's future prosperity, but it is often unclear who exactly they’re talking about. Perhaps this is because it is difficult to determine whether other Asians are friends or enemies, as Ueno Toshiya has argued. It could be that filmmakers resisted all-out condemnations of Westerners, having grown up on Hollywood and European films and music. The reason for the ambiguity of the enemy is debatable, but the constant talk about "the enemy" is not.

Furthermore, the argument that the enemy never (visually) appears is tentative at best. In feature films like Five Scouts (Gonin no sekko-heo, Generals, Staff and Soldiers (Shogun to sanbo to hed, General Kato's Falcon Fighters and Mud and Soldiers (Tsuchi to heitai), Anglo or Chinese enemies make brief appearances, even if in the distance. The Dawn of Freedom and The Tiger of Malaya (Marai no tora) have full-blown caricaturizations of Asian and American enemies. Furthermore, critics who contrast American and Japanese approaches to portraying (or not portraying) the enemy often base their comments on a misperception of American films. The American feature film rarely provides more than glimpses of a cardboard Japanese enemy, and certainly never surpasses simple stereotypes. When these critics think of the in-depth analyses of the enemy in American film, they are usually thinking of the Why We Fight and Know Your Enemy documentaries. However, these films are certainly exceptional. and still  offer little more than stereotypes and simplified versions of history.. not unlike their Japanese

Japanese documentaries give more detailed attention to  dangerous foreigners. They often focus on Westerner's white faces, mustaches and round eyes, as in Weapons of the Heart (Kokoro no buso) and Oriental Song of Victory (Toyo no gaika). In the latter. as well as Malayan War Front (Mare senki) and Yaburetaru shoguntachi (Officers Who've Lost -- Life of PO Ws). hundreds -- even thousands -- of captured Westerners are put on display and roundly denigrated.

Animated films like Momotaro's Sea Eagle (Momotaro no umiwashi). Momotaro - .. Divine Troops of the Ocean (Momotaro umi no shinpei) and Nippon Banzai also feature rich characterizations of the enemy. Nearly all Japanese war films are replete with (aural and visual) images of the enemy of varying complexity. To simply state that the enemy is rarely seen in Japanese films is to miss a valuable opportunity to examine where. when. And how the enemy appears, and attempt to discover the work of these images of the other.

In addition to its complex portrait of the enemy other. The Dawn of Freedom provides a virtual catalog of the stylistic conventions of the Japanese war film. The scenario often screeches to a halt for long speeches and pep talks. Actors tend to deliver lines at a shouting pitch, and appear de-humanized or robot-like. Mise-en-scene makes human bodies wooden, unmoving. statue-like. If anything, the actors look simply arranged in the frame, like human ikebana. They are shot from below, turned slightly away for a heroic line, and they rarely change position within the shot Among characters. the chain of command is made spectacle, usually mapped out physically by the set. For example, horizontal mappings of power often arrange the officers inside and the enlisted men outside; vertical mappings feature individualized officers belting out speeches from positions above their carefully assembled soldiers. The officers strike stiff, heroic poses as their subordinates go off to battle, intent of self-sacrifice. Death at the front is always aesthetically pleasing. and accompanied by beautiful songs like "Umi yukaba" ("If We Go to the Sea").

Despite these formalized conventions, there is also a certain kind of wartime "neorealism" to be found in the Japanese war film. It is heightened by on-location shooting and, in the case of The Dawn of Freedom. the appearance of actual prisoners of war. These films make a spectacle of Japan's colonial trophies and certainly held a powerful attraction for Japanese audiences in the 1930s and 1940s. War· time critics like Imamura Taihei were well-aware of this special documentary quality, however. it was quickly forgotten (or repressed) with the emergence of the left-wing style of neorealism. Despite all the critical attention paid to post-war (neo) realism. I would argue these films never surpassed the documentary realism of the war film.

In regard to sexuality, most Japanese war films focus on the relationship of soldier and mother. This is certainly a large factor in the large disparity in the numbers of male and female audience members.
A two-page advertisement spread for The Dawn of Freedom in Eiga junpo emphasized this iconic image in its ad copy: "The mother of the Filipino soldiers of Manila calls out to her sons at the front line by microphone. 'Aaah, Mother: cry the Filipino soldiers in the moment of their last breath. Their souls are resurrected the blood of the Orient!"12 Not surprisingly. the image of mother is often connected with the beautiful death. For their part, fathers (whose potential to upset the mother-son relationship is threatening) have usually died in other wars, from inexplicable natural deaths. or they are simply out of the picture. Soldiers have sisters. but they don't have lovers ... a radically different narrative strategy than that taken by the American war film. Thus, the main focus is the love between soldiers, funneling sexual energy into the war effort. Films like Five Scouts and Yonug Soldiers of the Sky (Sora no shonenhei) emphasize the camaraderie of the group and the beauty of the male body. while at the same time disavowing homo social connotations through violence and action. However, The Dawn of Freedom comes close to bringing the latent to light. The scene in which Gomez says goodbye to his Japanese friend is shot like a love scene in a Hollywood romance. The two stare lovingly at each other and spout absolutely amazing lines:

JAPANESE SOLDIER (IN JAPANESE): Now we must part company. You may not understand me now, but you must feel the mutual sympathies between us. That's all.
GOMEZ (IN ENGLISH): I know you are going to Corregidor and saying goodbye to me now, but I'm sorry 1 cannot understand what you are saying.
JAPANESE SOLDIER: Capt. Gomez, please understand just this. Nippon and Philippines are not enemies.
GOMEZ: Nippon ... Philippines.
JAPANESE SOLDIER: Nippon ... Philippines.
[They hold hands and stare dreamily into each other's eyes in a pretty, backlit closeup.)
GOMEZ: Nippon ... Philippines ... Peace.

This love scene is set up in an extraordinary scene at the beginning of the two soldiers' relationship. Bathing at a beautiful forest stream amidst a ocean of naked male flesh, Gomez washes his burly body. Behind him, the Japanese soldier mends his war-torn clothes with needle and thread. When Gomez thanks the Japanese soldier for his kindness, a nearby officer ends the scene with a telling observation: "He makes a better housewife than soldier."

Here we must recall the audience surveys conducted for The Dawn of Freedom and their implications for our understanding of the Japanese war film. These kinds of scenes are clearly appealing to the male members of the audience, which filled 72.8% of the seats. Critics pose the friendship of male comrades-in-arms as the defining characteristic of the war film, and praise its avoidance of conflict as a particular kind of humanism. However, considering the ultimate instance of this relationship as found in The Dawn of Freedom, we might reconsider this thought. Here the deep friendship between male comrades is shown to be the basis of the war effort. Clearly this makes for great propaganda. In this light, The Dawn of Freedom hints at the complicity of humanism with the making of war: a film does not require pitched battles and stereotyped analyses of the enemy to be deeply militaristic.

Finally, what makes The Dawn of Freedom more interesting than all the other films of this period is the trace of the Philippines -Japan coproduction in the style itself. Viewers will be tempted to attribute the film's high production values to director Abe's pre-war experience in the Hollywood industry. Indeed, in a 1943 essay Mizumachi Seiji writes, "Abe's direction itself is physical. The flesh and blood "him" [kare] that ideally cannot be contained appears. Having previously lived in the United States, the part which Abe did not experience consciously clearly comes out on screen ... A remarkable example is the handling of the performances on the stairs when Gomez and his wife part...If this had been done by a different, younger director, it would immediately become nothing more thanan imitation of an American film."Ll Mizumachi could not have picked a more appropriate example because it is probable that Abe did not, in fact, direct this scene. According to Ricardo Pasion, the actor that played Tony, all the scenes involving Tagalog dialog were directed by the great Filipino director Gerardo de Leon.

The style of The Dawn of Freedom is schizophrenic; it clearly shifts between two apparent approaches from scene to scene. One style features the melodrama de Leon was known for, and is easily found in the scenes containing dialogue in Tagalog, The other style features English and Japanese dialogue, and is consistently shot in the militaristic film style outlined above. The filmmaking in these scenes is consistent with typical Japanese films of the war, including those by Abe Yutaka. However, when Filipinos talk among themselves, the film transforms into something qualitatively different. The camera work becomes fluid, along with the mise-en-scene. Actors appear natural, especially the children; there is none of the stiff postures and heroic posing, The Scenes among family members are reminiscent of de Leon's other work.

They are notable for their melodramatic excess, particularly in regard to sexuality. As we saw above, romantic sexuality between Japanese men and women is usually disavowed in Japanese films of this period. However, The Dawn of Freedom's Gomez longs for his girlfriend. Their going away scene at the beginning is as romantic as cinema gets, with deep shadows, melodramatic music, passionate looks. And a lot of touching.

This is a trace of de Leon's hand in the film. Above all the other fascinating aspects of Dawn of Freedom -- the bizarre production history, the POWs' recreation of their own defeat, the spectacle of the film itself what makes this film most precious is the manner in which it has captured the work of two of Asia's great directors, working together and leaving the trace of their collaboration for us to discover.

This article would not have been possible without the concerted efforts of Teddie Co. His investigations into the film's history included interviews with Leopolda Salcedo and Ricardo Pasion, in addition to library research.
Source:  "Nippon ... Philippines ... Peace" by Abe Mark Nornes


  1. ang galing, sir may movie pa po ba nito?

  2. I have seen one being offered on eBay for $15.00. I was not able to bid on it.

  3. Very nice article. I've been looking for information about this movie for a long time ever since I saw it on Beta-Max tape in the 70's. It was of very poor quality. Nice to see some clear and detailed movie stills. Might I ask were you got them. Are there any other photos from this movie? Thank you very much for posting. Can I get permission to post some of the movie stills credited to you.

  4. Hi,
    I am glad that you like my posting. I got them from an antique dealer.
    There are other minor photos of this movie that I did not post. Sure you can use the photos, just give me due credit on the photos and article. Just send me the link to your site once you are finished.

  5. Hi Ed,

    My name is Jobert. Thank you for giving us permission to post your most excellent find. You are very fortunate to have come across these photographs. Thank you too for sharing them with us. I have posted the photos in our FaceBook page. Here is the link!/profile.php?id=100002859400015

    I hope it works, if not and you have a FaceBook page search for us under Manuel Conde click on the Avatar which features 3 Philippine Scouts reenactors in a Bren Gun Carrier.

    The most interesting photo for me was the shot with the "Open City" banner which had the US marked Bren Gun Carrier in the foreground. This is the first time that I've seen a photo of this particular vehicle. We have been looking for photographs of WWII in the Philippines from 1941-1942.As you know very few if any from this time frame exist and have survived. Your photos are a most exciting discovery.

    Maraming Salamat,


  6. Hi Jobert,
    Your Facebook site is impressive. It is nice to know that you still keep in your hearts the memory of the brave Filipino & American soldiers who died in WWII. Thanks also for sharing your site.

  7. Fortunately...I have the DVD in my collection

  8. I have seen this movie in UP just recently. I think this is the only movie where you can see Angel Esmeralda, one of the popular matinee idols of pre-war philippine movie industry. A Japanese propaganda movie but nicely directed by Gerardo De Leon.

    BTW, do you have clippings, newspaper articles or movie stills of pre-war romantic musicals? Do you have some clippings about movies of Elsa Oria? Thank you very much!

  9. Hi Daniel,
    Sorry I do not have any clippings, newspaper articles or movie stills of pre-war romantic musicals or anything about Elsa Oria. Try the blog site of Video 48 he might have some.

  10. Outstanding website of some impressive and very esoteric Filipiniana!
    Like you, I am also a collector (and student), mostly of Phlippine Military history related material from the 1900 to 1945.
    I have a CD of Dawn of Freedom, but unfortunately they are of very poor quality. I would love to see these movies in something like their original state, but of course where could a better copy be found?
    It is haunting to see these historical movies and a now vanished Philippines.
    Best Regards,
    Conrad Buehler
    San Francisco USA

  11. Hi Conrad,
    Thanks for your nice comment on my website. It is my objective to share our rich culture to the world thru these memorabilia. Keep on collecting Filipiniana materials and I encourage you to share your knowledge and collection.

  12. Yep, I saw the movie during the Jap occupation. Let me tell you though that the general comment given by our oldsters was that it was Japanese propaganda and that we young boys should not be persuaded. Far from being kind and benevolent, we saw how some neighbors in Singalong were harshly rounded up by Jap soldiers, taken aboard a truck, and never to be seen again. WE KNEW THE REAL SCORE.

  13. Hi Ed,

    I hope that everything is well with you. I came across this article on the internet and was wondering if you've already seen it. It is very interesting analysis of the movie.

    We've recently been to an event with some 26th Cavalry reenactors. I've posted some photos on the Manuel Conde FB page if you want to see them.

    Maraming Salamat,


    1. Hi Jobert, Thanks for sharing the link, I will include it in my blog. Nice Facebook site, truly enjoyed looking at your photos. Ed

  14. This collection is impressive and makes me curious about the film. I hope you don't mind me using a photo (specifically this: for an output in art history class. I will send a photo if I can/if you want me to. Thank you!

    1. Sure you can use it, just give proper credit.

    2. I plan to use one of the stills for an article on the M1 Garand rifle in the Philippines. I will give proper credit. Thank you!!

      Rick Slater

  15. I am looking for a copy of "the Dawn of Freedom". I own a B&B in Michigan and have had a quest for the last week who was born to Canadian Parents in the Philippines during the Japanese invasion. His sister was 5 at his birth. They hid out in the mountains for almost a year before giving up to the Japanese because his mother had become very sick. They took his father to a different camp and he eventually was killed on a Japanese ship that was transferring prisoners to Japan. It was bombed by American planes. His mother passed away in the internment camp from her illness. He and his sister were cared for by missionaries that were also interned. I watched a documentary that he and a good friend put together after he went back in the 80s to find more information about his heritage and the last years of his parents. He was told that his father is in a clip from Dawn of Freedom Documentary. I would like to find it for him.

    Floyd Kopietz - Millpond Inn B&B

  16. I love historical films. If there is any that captured my imagination here was the scenes showing manila in its glory before the destruction. I could imagine what it's like to live in those days pre-war period. Thanks.