Know Your Enemy: Japan (1945)


Know Your Enemy: Japan is an American World War II propaganda film about the war in the Pacific directed by Frank Capra.

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The film begins with a text preamble discussing the Japanese in America who fought valiantly in the name of America who stood for values like “freedom” and “liberty,” and how the following film is not talking about all Japanese, but only Japanese natives. It goes on to discuss the soldiers of the Japanese army. This section focuses mainly on the appearance and diet of the soldier, much more than tactics and strategy. The film comments on the soldiers of the Japanese army as being “as alike as photographic prints off the same negative.”

The Japanese are said to be devoted to Emperor Hirohito, the narration states: “entrust to one man the powers of the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, the Premier of Soviet Russia; add to them the powers of the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and top it all with the divine authority of our own Son of God and you will begin to understand what Hirohito means to the Japanese.”

After going over Hirohito’s divinity and saying that his divine origins are shared by Japanese people as a whole, the film then describes Shinto, a Japanese religion, saying that it had been a “quaint religion for a quaint people” until 1870 when a mad, fanatical, conquer-the-world doctrine, based on the commandment of Jimmu, the first emperor of Japan, to “let us extend the capital and cover the eight corners of the world under one roof” was woven into it and called Hakkō Ichiu (八紘一宇, literally “eight crown cords, one roof”, i.e., “all the world under one roof”). The film describes Yasukuni Shrine, a Shinto shrine where all of Japan’s war dead are enshrined and where the spirits of those killed in battle shall return.

After saying repeatedly, “If you are Japanese, you believe these things,” the film then shifts gears slightly with the question, “But if you’re not Japanese, then what is the real Japan, the Japan of the geographer, anthropologist, and historian?” After a brief geography lesson, the idea of Japanese “pure divine blood” is countered with accusations that it is nothing more than a “plasma cocktail,” and then begins the history section. Here the Emperor is portrayed as having little political power, with the real power being in the hands of daimyōs and their armies of samurai. The samurai are vilified along with their code of Bushido, with the narrator saying that it “not only sanctioned double dealing and treachery but looked at it as an art to be cultivated”. The arrival of Christianity and the warlords’ reaction to its teachings of peace and equality by throwing out the West and isolating Japan for 200 years is used to further vilify them.

The film then juxtaposes the Enlightenment, scientific and artistic advances that occurred in the West with Japan’s stagnant isolation during the same period, broken by Commodore Perry’s forced opening of Japan in 1853. The Westernisation of Japan is discussed but always in the context of how the warlords were using it to further their own ambitions. The elimination of the position of Shogun and the elevation of the previously powerless Emperor as a rallying point in 1868 with the warlords “reserving for themselves and themselves alone the right to speak for him and guide his policies” give the impression of Hirohito as an effectively powerless figurehead. The film invokes the Tanaka Memorial, now generally accepted to have been a forgery, as Baron Giichi Tanaka’s secret blueprint, Japan’s “Mein Kampf.”

The power of the warlords continues to be emphasised in the rest of the film and is summarised by the statement that they never adopted the moral or ethical principles that went with the ideas they borrowed and that all information is filtered down to the Japanese people, having been first approved and altered to suit the purposes of the warlords. This is emphasised by showing how, despite Japan’s modernisation, most of the Japanese people still lived and worked in ways effectively unchanged since the 17th century, and that even the white-collar Japanese man, once he arrived home, lived like his ancestors did in the Middle Ages.

The warlords’ control over the Japanese people is used to explain the current expansionist and warlike actions of the Japanese, and the film ends with the wartime circumstances of 1945 Japan.


  • Although production on Know Your Enemy: Japan began in 1942, it was troubled from the very beginning by the inability of the US government to determine what exactly the foreign policy towards Japan should be.
  • The film is compiled from footage obtained from newsreels, the UN, enemy film, fictional Japanese movies for historical background, and re-enactments supervised by the war department.
  • It was released to the general public and used for the orientation of American soldiers before and during deployment.

Production & Filming Details

  • Narrator(s): Walter Huston and Dana Andrews.
  • Director(s): Frank Capra and Joris Ivens.
  • Writer(s): Frank Capra, Carl Foreman, John Huston, and Edgar Peterson.
  • Music: George C. Emick and Dimitri Tiomkin.
  • Editor(s): Major Aaxton, Frank Bracht, Elmo Williams, and Helen van Dongen.
  • Release Date: 09 August 1945.
  • Running Time: 63 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.


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