Bridge to the Sun (1961)
“The Story That Had To Be Told!”
Director: Etienne PÃ©rier
Cast: Carroll Baker, James Shigeta, James Yagi
Synopsis: Based on a true story, this compelling drama relates the difficulties of a young woman married to a Japanese diplomat during World War II, victim of suspicion and animosity from her husband’s government.
Bridge to the Sun is a worthy, if fairly stodgy, adaptation of a 1950s autobiographical best-seller written by Gwen Terasaki, who is portrayed in the movie by Carroll Baker. In 1935 she met Hidenari Terasaki (James Shigeta), a Japanese diplomat attached to his embassy in Washington. Despite the misgivings of both sets of family members, the couple married after a whirlwind romance, and Gwen followed her husband back to Japan.
Being a feisty Southern girl, Gwen finds it difficult to adjust to the Japanese way of life in which a married woman is expected to subjugate herself to her husband at all times, which causes a certain amount of friction between the young couple. Terry, as her husband is known, is a little more enlightened owing to his time in the West, but peer pressure places an inevitable strain on their marriage. However, this aspect of their relationship is swept aside by Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbour in December 1941. By that time, the Terasaki’s were back in Washington, but the outbreak of war in the Pacific results in all Japanese diplomatic staff being returned to their homeland, and Gwen unhesitatingly elects to follow her husband.
By this time the couple have a young daughter who, once back in Japan, experiences the prejudice of her schoolmates and teacher. Gwen, meanwhile, is in the unimaginable position of fearing the nerve-shredding drone of her own country’s planes overhead, even as she hopes for an American victory. Fortunately for her, Terry is a pacifist who is opposed to the war, which makes him something of an enemy of the State as the conflict comes to a close, and he is forced to go into hiding.
As with all screen adaptations, Bridge to the Sun takes some liberties with the truth in order to deliver a more commercially viable story, and while its subject matter is both unusual and interesting, the drama isn’t always as compelling as it could be. Carroll Baker is way out of her depth as the intelligent and independent Gwen, and seems to find it impossible to project any convincing emotions other than to yell loudly when upset. Shigeta is a gentle leading man, but his part is strictly a supporting role to Baker’s and he’s given little chance to shine in his own right. Bridge to the Sun benefits greatly from location shooting in Japan, but it makes absolutely no effort to capture the fashion or look of the 1930s and 40s, with Baker sporting a fashionable 60s hairdo throughout (in fact, she must be the only young woman in history to wear her hair in the same fashion for more than a decade). The movie was probably of interest to women in the early 1960s, when the first stirrings of feminism were afoot, but it has little to offer anyone today.
(Reviewed 20th June 2013)