T. it.: L’isola della donna contesa Sc.: J. von Sternberg, da un racconto di Michiro Maruyama. Voce del narratore (in inglese): J. von Sternberg. Dialoghi giapponesi: Asano. F.: J. Von Sternberg. Mu.: Akira Ifukube. M.: Miyate. Scgf.: Kono. Cast.: Akemi Neghishi (Keiko), Tadashi Suganuma (Kusakabe), Kisabuto Sawamura (primo «fuco»), Shoji Nakayama (secondo fuco), Jun Fujikawa (terzo fuco), Hiroshi Kondo (quarto «fuco»), Shozo Miyashita (quinto «fuco»), Tsuruemon Bando (primo capitano), Kikuji Onoe (secondo capitano), Kokuriro Kinoya (il suonatore), Dajiro Tamura (primo nostalgico), Tadashi Kitagawa (secondo nostalgico), Takashi Suzuki (terzo nostalgico), shiro Amikura (il patriota). Prod.: Nagamasa Kawakita, Yoshio Osawa, per Daiwa-Towa; 35mm. L.: 2555 m. D.: 94’ a 24 f/s. Bn.
An article appeared in «Life» telling the incredible odyssey of several Japanese who were abandoned on an island for seven years after the war ended. It got my attention. During that period, I was working on a film in Los Angeles, and my Japanese friends Kawakita and Osawa had begged me to go to Japan to work. I proposed the subject to them, and they accepted. So I went to Japan to work on the idea for the film. […] Preparation took five months, but once we were in Kyoto, shooting went very quickly. I didn’t want to go to Anatahan. It was too far away, too hard to get to, and too wild. The environment was too difficult, too unhealthy. I liked working in comfort. You can’t do anything good without comfort. And the mosquitoes! A deadly place, with snakes, wild animals… So I recreated the island, from an idea I had of it. There were Cryptomeria (a type of giant tree)… Do you know how big they are? Ten or fifteen men can’t get their arms around one. They’re huge. We had a few torn down, we took the stumps, turned them upside down, and recreated the jungle. It was hard, because there are no coconuts in Japan. We had to fly them over from the Philippines. You can’t get hardly anything in Japan, it’s very strange! The mountains are drawn too, they’re not real, it’s all a trick! That’s how films should be made! Only the ocean was real. It’s too bad, because I would’ve liked to recreate that too. It ruins the film!
Josef von Sternberg, in «D’un silence l’autre», by André S. Labarthe (1967), for the television series «Cinéastes de notre temps». Now in Flavio Vergerio (ed.), Cinema, del nostro tempo, Milano, Il Castoro, 1998.
The tragedy of The Saga of Anathan began at the time of its release in Japan, in the summer of 1953. Hostile towards this vision of their culture abroad, both critics and audiences rejected the film. Western criticism would prove no more lucid – except for the French – and even Lotte H. Eisner would use, regarding the film, the mediocre remark by John Grierson about Sea Gulls (the film which Sternberg made for Charles Chaplin, which Chaplin would never show): «When a director dies, he becomes a photographer.» […] In 1987, the distribution house Twyman Films hired the Film Technology laboratory to restore The Saga of Anatahan, starting from various elements received mainly from Mrs. von Sternberg, who requested that the film conform to the work documents left by her husband. The film was restored, but in an imprecise manner and from markedly deteriorated materials. Above all, the original comments spoken by the director are missing. […] The recent duplication, on the part of the Cinémathèque Française, of the print released in 1956 was thus necessary.
Bernard Eisenschitz, in «Cinegrafie», n. 15, 2002