Witness to War: Memories and Screens
The memories of World War Two have been captured, interpreted and presented in various films – from iconic war films like Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence to romance films such as Hiroshima Mon Amour and historically significant films like Momotaro Sacred Sailors and Spirit of the Overseas Chinese which have not been seen in Singapore in recent history. For the first time, the National Museum, in collaboration with the Asian Film Archive, will be presenting Witness to War: Memories and Screens, a selection of films which document and remember the experience of World War Two in the Pacific and its aftermath.
In tracing the historical development from the bombing of Pearl Harbour (1941) to Hiroshima (1945), Memories and Screens will showcase films and narratives from Singapore and Malaya, Britain, Japan, America and Singapore’s regional neighbours, accounting for the diverse yet shared narratives of countries and people that have participated in and witnessed World War Two. This film programme – inspired by the exhibition Witness to War: Remembering 1942 – invites us to reflect upon the ways film across national borders remembers a shared history that continues to shape our reality today. Click here to get your tickets.
Witness to War: Memories and Screens will also feature an installation developed by third year Arts Management students from LASALLE College of the Arts, School of Creative Industries, under the mentorship of the National Museum as part of its efforts to cultivate the interest of youths in museums as cultural and civic spaces.
Witness to War: Memories and Screens is organised by the National Museum of Singapore as part of the Witness to War exhibition and curated by the Asian Film Archive.
Screening Venue: Gallery Theatre, Basement Level
Tora! Tora! Tora, Richard Fleischer, Kinji Fukasaku, Toshio Masuda, USA, Japan, 1970, Japanese & English (with English subtitles), PG
Tora is a Japanese code word for “lightning attack”, a tactic which was employed on 7 December 1941, when the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise offensive on America’s Pearl Harbour, a devastating move that abruptly drew America into World War Two and set in motion the Pacific War. A detailed and ambitious dramatisation of the events that led up to “the day of infamy”, Tora! Tora! Tora! was a joint project by both American and Japanese writers and directors and a cinematic exercise in the reconciliation of memories from both sides of the war.
In Which We Serve, David Lean, Noel Coward, UK, 1942, 116min, English, Rating TBA
Developed as propaganda to boost morale in Blitz-weary Britain, In Which We Serve features the impressive directorial debuts of playwright Noel Coward and David Lean (Brief Encounter, Lawrence of Arabia). Inspired by the exploits of Captain Lord Mountbatten (re-written as Captain Kinross and played by Coward himself), who was in command of the celebrated HMS Kelly when it was sunk by the Germans during the Battle of Crete. Patriotic, yet humanistic in its approach, the film was received rapturously by the Allies upon its initial release in 1942. After the end of war, it continued to be screened by the British during their Victory Parade Day celebrations around the world.
Sergeant Hassan, Lamberto V. Avallena, Singapore, 1958, Malay, Japanese & English (with English subtitles), PG
Made during the golden era of Malay cinema, Sergeant Hassan is a patriotic film that reimagines military and civilian struggles during the Japanese occupation. The film is inspired by heroic folklores. The legendary P. Ramlee stars in the titular role as a young man who leaves his village to join the Malaya Regiment where he rises up the ranks, succeeds in battle and brings peace and victory to his nation and community. Released a year before Singapore gained full internal self-governance from the British, the film can be viewed as a projection of a nation’s desire for independence and harmony among people, through its perseverance through a traumatic past.
Spirit Of The Overseas Chinese / 海外征魂, Wan Hoiling, Singapore, 1946, Mandarin & Hokkien (with English subtitles), Rating PG
Previously thought to be a lost film, Spirit of the Overseas Chinese was recently discovered in the vaults of the China Film Archive and restored. A rare document of Singapore cinema, the film was made by pioneering female Chinese film-maker Wan Hoi-ling, who had directed films in Singapore for the Shaw Brothers since 1940. Her partner Hou Yao, who tragically died during the war, collaborated with her on her films. Made just a year after World War Two ended, the story of Spirit begins before the war comes to Malaya and reflects upon the struggles of newly-emigrated and affluent Chinese immigrants who have to choose between the comfortable luxury of their lives in Singapore and returning to their motherland to fight the enemy.
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence / 戦場のメリークリスマス, Nagisa Oshima, UK, Japan, 1983, 123min, English & Japanese (with English subtitles), Rating PG-13
In a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Java, in 1942, Lieutenant-Colonel John Lawrence (Tom Conti), a British officer, enjoys an uneasy relationship with his jailors and fellow prisoners. He faces a new challenge with the arrival of fellow Briton, the indomitably spirited Major Jacques Celliers (David Bowie), who becomes an object of strange desire for the Japanese Captain Yanoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto). What follows is not merely a battle of survival between the British prisoners and their Japanese captors, but a battle of wills and world views. But towards the end of the war, as Christmas approaches, both sides begin to realise that there is more common ground between them than either could have imagined.
Devils On The Doorstep / 鬼子来了, Jiang Wen, China, 2000, 162min, Mandarin (with English subtitles), Rating TBA
Set in the last months of Japanese-occupied China in a small village, a mysterious visitor leaves two kidnapped victims – a Japanese soldier and a Chinese translator – at Ma Dasan’s (Jiang Wen) house for reasons unknown. The villagers end up forming a strange kinship with the duo that leads to a series of tragicomic events. This original 162-minute version (20 minutes longer than its theatrical cut) of the film has only recently been restored and has not been seen since its initial festival-run in 2000.
The Thin Red Line, Terrence Malick, USA, 1998, English, Tok Pisin, Japanese & Greek (with English subtitles), PG
Based on the novel by James Jones, The Thin Red Line tells the story of a group of soldiers, who change, suffer, and ultimately make important discoveries about themselves during the fierce World War Two battle of Guadalcanal, the first major Allied offensive against the Japanese. The story takes place as Army troops relieve battle-weary Marine units. It follows their journey through bloody and exhausting battles to the ultimate departure of those who survived.
King Rat, Bryan Forbes, USA, 1965, 134min, English, Rating PG
Based on the novel of the same name, King Rat is partly based on the experiences of writer James Clavell (Shōgun, Tai-Pan) as a POW interned in Changi just before the end of World War Two. The story features King, an opportunistic American Corporal, who strikes a friendship with British Lieutenant Marlowe and others. The group schemes to profit by breeding rats and selling rat meat to fellow prisoners. But as Marlowe’s health deteriorates after an injury and the war begins to come to a close, King must choose between his own needs and that of his fellow man.
Three Godless Years / Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos, Mario O’Hara, Philippines,1976, Tagalog & Japanese (with English subtitles), Rating PG-13,
World War Two shatters the idyllic lives of two lovers as Crispin (Bembol Roco), a soldier, is summoned to fight the war and a school teacher Rosasio (Nora Aunor) is caught up in the violence of war. After being assaulted by a Philippine-born Japanese soldier Captain Masugi (Christopher De Leon), she becomes pregnant and falls in love with Masugi, eventually agreeing to marry him. With the return of American forces to the Philippines, Masugi and Rosario’s family must flee as the Japanese start to withdraw from occupied areas. Considered one of the greatest Filipino films of all time, Three Godless Years was recently digitally restored from the only surviving but severely damaged print of the film. It is being shown in Singapore for the first time.
The Most Beautiful / 一番美しく, Akira Kurosawa, Japan, 1944, Japanese (with English subtitles), Rating PG
Unlike other films in the canon of war cinema, The Most Beautiful does not reflect and perpetuate romanticised notions of masculine heroism on the frontlines. What transpires then is a compassionate film that portrays the women back home who quietly dedicated themselves to Japan’s ambitious war effort through perseverance, despite illness and hardship.
Momotaro Sacred Soldiers / 桃太郎 海の神兵, Mitsuya Seo, Japan, 74min, 1945, Japanese (with English subtitles), Rating PG
Japan’s first-ever feature-length animated film, Momotaro, Sacred Sailors was produced with the backing of the Ministry of the Navy of Japan in the last days of World War Two as a means of boosting morale back home when the prospect of a Japanese victory began to wane. Featuring the Japanese folk character Momotaro (“Peach Boy” in English) and with various animals representing soldiers invading an island in the South Pacific, the film was made for children. The film notably features an amusing representation of the historical surrender of Singapore by British General Percival in 1942. A rare film seen by very few when released in 1945. This screening presents a recently released digital restoration from 2016.
Grave Of The Fireflies / 火垂るの墓, Isao Takahata, Japan, 1988, 89min, Japanese (with English subtitles), PG
Set a few weeks before the American occupation of Japan, Grave of the Fireflies centres on the lives of two brave young siblings, Seita and Setsuko. With their father away serving the Imperial Navy, and their mother tragically killed in an air raid, the children are forced to stay with their cruel aunt, whom they eventually flee from. Depending solely on each other for survival, Seita does all he can to take care of his starving younger sister who gets weaker by the day.
Hiroshima Mon Amour, Alain Resnais, France, Japan, 1959, 90min, French (with English subtitles), PG
An actress arrives in Hiroshima to star in a film about peace. She meets a Japanese man, they become lovers and he also becomes her confidant. He tells her about his life and repeats: “You’ve seen nothing of Hiroshima.” She talks to him about her teenage years in Nevers during World War Two and her love affair with a German soldier. After 54 years, this classic of French cinema has been restored in 4K digital. It premiered in the Cannes Classics section in 2013.
Screening Venue: The Salon, Level 1
Screening Dates: 13, 14, 20, 21 & 28 Jan
All films will be screened on loop.
The Battle Of Bukit Chandu, Charles Lee, Goh Zi Hao, David Hwee, Lim Sze Yang,Darwin Muis, Chew Kai Fook, Shum Kah Fai, Singapore, 2005, Japanese & Malay (with English subtitles), Rating PG
On 14 February 1942, the 56th Infantry Regiment of the Imperial Japanese Army launched one of the bloodiest attack in Singapore to take control of Pasir Panjang Ridges. A Malay platoon made up of 42 men commanded by 2nd Lt Adnan Bin Saidi, from the C Company of the Malay Regiment. Despite being severely outnumbered by the Japanese, they fought bravely until their eventual deaths. Originally produced in 2005 by a team of students, the animated film has since been updated in 2014 with newly produced motion graphics and interview segments with survivors. The short film remains one of the very few Singapore films that depict this true story.
Janaki, Don Aravind, Singapore, 2012, Tamil (with English subtitles), PG13
Janaki, a former recruit from the Rani of Jhansi women’s regiment of the Indian National Army, reflects on the painful experiences of World War Two. More than just a wartime account, Janaki also brings together a soldier’s memories and a woman's mediation upon them.
The Nameless, Ho Tzu Nyen, Singapore, 2015, Mandarin (with English subtitles), PG13
Appropriating scenes from 16 different films featuring Hong Kong actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai, such as Hou Hsiao-hsien’s City of Sadness (1989), Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution (2013), Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000), and John Woo’s Bullet in the Head (1990), Ho Tzu Nyen’s The Nameless re-contextualises such scenes to tell the story of Lai Teck, a real-life triple agent operating in post-war Malaya.
White Gorilla, Charles Packer, Singapore, 2017, English, PG
Filmmaker Charles Packer chronicles his grandfather’s life and experiences as a British marine stationed in Singapore during the 1960s. Through photography, home videos, interviews, writing as well as footage taken while following in his grandfather’s footsteps, Packer creates a unique work of portraiture that explores how we remember our departed loved ones.
Responding to films presented in Witness to War: Memories and Screens and the survivors’ accounts featured in the exhibition Witness to War: Remembering 1942, DE:CODE is a pop-up installation based on Morse code. The installation explores how covert wartime communication was a matter of life and death, and emphasises the importance of remembering wartime experience, be it through film or an appreciation of how our landscapes and modes of communication have changed since then. Drop by DE:CODE at the Gallery Theatre Foyer of the National Museum of Singapore from 20 Jan to 28 Jan 2018 and try your hand at crafting and deciphering messages in Morse code!
In addition to the pop-up installation, the Arts Management students have also selected the film Windtalkers (2002) to be presented as part of Witness to War: Memories and Screens on 28 January 2018. Register here for your free tickets.
Screening Venue: Gallery Theatre, Basement Level
Windtalkers, John Woo, USA, 2002, English, PG, 28 Jan, 11.30am
A battle-weary Marine is assigned to guard - and ultimately befriends - a young Navajo soldier who has been trained to be a code talker. This code, the Navajo code was based on an obscure Native American language. The code was a means for secret communication during the war and has been credited as having contributed to US victories on the battlefield in the Pacific. Specially selected by LASALLE students in response to the Witness to War: Memories and Screens, this film gives a unique insight into wartime communication on the frontlines.