Created in 1944 and presented by Hollywood motion picture studio United Artists, and released by the United States Navy, “The World In Action — Fortress Japan” opens with a flashback to Tokyo on December 7, 1941, and the narrator repeating a statement from Japan’s emperor, the Son of Heaven”: “We declare war on the United States and upon the Commonwealth and Empire of Great Britain. We rely upon the diligence of our subjects to ensure that in the coming struggle, our illustrious intentions shall not miscarry.”
“Still vivid … are those early days of the war in the Pacific,” the narrator continues, as at mark 01:30, a fleet of Japanese warships are shown at sea. The men were faced with desperate odds, yet were never willing to give up the fight. Footage of battles at sea light up the screen at mark 01:45, as we’re told, “for every ship they sank, it seemed Japan could set 100 more upon the sea.”
With one-fifth of the world’s population part of the Japanese Empire, we are informed at mark 02:25, Japan seems to have an endless supply of natural resources to support their war effort. To drive home the point, the film flashes upon Japanese soldiers as they oversea the forced labor of civilians, given only the “cold myth of future co-prosperity” in repayment.
“But today, the Japanese are driving their slave labor to the limit of endurance. Every mine, mill, and man they say must give the upmost in the shortest time,” we are told at mark 03:30, as the film flashes scenes of back-breaking labor from enemy film footage. (The footage was made available through the Office of the Alien Property Custodian). “For time they know is swiftly running out across the Empire of the Rising Sun.”
Cue the actions of Allied Forces. In 1944, Allied forces had slowly gained naval and air supremacy in the Pacific, and moved from island to island, conquering such targets as Gilbert Islands and then the Marshall Islands in the Battle of Kwajalein in late January and early February 1944, and often sustaining significant casualties to the Japanese. Late in 1944, American forces liberated the Philippines and began massive air attacks on Japan. Volleys of gunfire begin at mark 04:45 as we see another landing force take to the coral shores.
“They seldom see the Jap, but have to burn and blast him out of every blockhouse.”
The burned and battered bodies of Japanese soldiers fill the screen beginning at mark 05:40.
Meanwhile, in the Aleutian Islands, frozen bomber bases, only 700 miles from Japan, are shown as snow falls and cold wins blow at mark 06:30. It’s only when the weather clears are bomber pilots given their orders for Japanese targets.
And then there is the Burma Campaign, which raged from January to November 1944 and involved the United States and allies Great Britain and China, to ready themselves for a final invasion of Japan, we are reminded at mark 08:00. “There is no continuous front line. Only a wall of palms and strangler vines. And everywhere — the Jap!”
At mark 09:30, the viewer is cautioned that Japan will not forfeit the fight, and is very likely preparing a last ditch defensive stand. “The Japanese, they say, will retire behind an inner fortress, taking in those territories which can provide materials and munitions over short lines of supply.” A map showing Japan, North China, Korea, Formosa, and the industrial stronghold Manchuria flashes on screen.
“We aware that the loss of these territories in Asia might prove fatal to her cause, Japan is striving to forestall Allied assaults on them by launching new drives southward into China,” the narrator dramatically states near mark 11:00 as battle scenes continue to play out. “Within the fortress walls, they say men move as though along a course of fate they have no power to change.”
The viewer is then shown footage from foundries, shipyards, munitions factories, and laboratories, as worker put in 16 hour days “to ease the Emperor’s mind,” all for 10 ounces of rice and a scrap of dried fish twice a week.
And as Japanese sailors and soldiers board trains to shipped to combat zones starting at mark 14:45, the film’s narrator grimly remarks, “And so, a nation which has ever held life cheap prepares to practice once again its ancient arts of death. ‘If our bodies are broken,’ they say, ‘we shall fight on with the spirit of our fore bearers until the Emperor calls cease.’ And behind the taught smiles of farewell, they hide their gritted teeth.”