With John Boorman (Deliverance, Beyond Rangoon, The General) directing Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune, my expectations were very high. Turns out they were a little too high, but this concept film still works, thanks to some good performances and an interesting script. During World War II, Marvin and Mifune find themselves stranded on the same small Pacific island together. Their training, indoctrination, and natural prejudices keep them at each other’s throats throughout the film, and they do not learn to love and understand each other, so don’t look for it. But situations arise that force them to cooperate now and again. In these moments, each has to try to work around his fear and hatred.
The film is really two movies, because there is dialogue in both Japanese and English, but no subtitles are provided. Nor were they provided when this film was released in America and Japan in 1969. American audiences got Marvin’s side; Japanese audiences got Mifune’s. In addition, there are two different endings, and you can see them both on the LaserDisc version of the movie. The different endings say a lot about the difference between U.S. and Japanese cultures. The Japanese ending makes sense, but I think the U.S. ending was too heavyhanded. Although in 1969, six years into the Vietnam War, the cultural perspective was surely different from today. Without the film’s gimmick, it might have faded farther into obscurity than it has, and it might have been less worthwhile.