THE DAWN OF FREEDOM (1944)
Contemporary audiences are used to the stories of lolos and lolas about their encounters with Japanese soldiers. They easily dismiss the WWII as a grueling period caused by Jap soldiers who are destructive and atrocious. Even history tells us so because it is in the consensus of all these stories that the 3-4 years of Japanese occupation was a devastating moment in our history. As people living seven decades after the Occupation, we rely on these accounts and consider them as facts. But it is of course, a matter of perspective. The Americans who “saved” us from the Japanese are in for their condemnation because they were also bombed by the superpower, plus they have a colonizing agenda. But what if you ask what the Japanese thought about it? Enter THE DAWN OF FREEDOM (1944).
The film starts with a devastating introduction – the declaration of Manila as an “Open City”. From there, we proceed to two narratives woven together: one is the war encounters of Andres Gomez; the other is about his kid brother Tony’s friendship with a kind Jap soldier. Andres who was once faithful to the American flag found his way to the Japanese army after a brief encounter and belittlement from his leaders. When he left his home in Manila, his brother Tony was crippled by an automobile driven by an American officer but a Japanese soldier he befriends him and sends him to a doctor to ease his condition. It all ends with smiles as the Japanese lead the Filipinos to their progress as a people. Well DAWN OF FREEDOM is, above its dragging war genre excess, a typical melodrama with a touching bromance between a kid and a father-like soldier, a working Filipino and the Japanese army, colonizer and colonized. It’s not an easy watch of course – available copies are now rough and inaudible with only Japanese subtitles functioning as a guide (it’s quite obvious who the target audience is, too). But the work on its music is quite masterful especially in the scene where Tony stands up from his wheelchair to reveal the miracle his Japanese friend has blessed him. It is undoubtedly a sappy textbook example of an MMK episode. Perhaps a macho AFFAIR TO REMEMBER, too?
So now the issue is this: what did the Japanese want to do? Despite a prominent Filipino director (Gerardo de Leon), it was very apparent that the Japanese were all over this puppet show. According to Video 48 (2011):
It was the Japanese policy to push the goals of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. According to Rico Jose in his article, “The Dawn of Freedom and Japanese Wartime Propaganda”, the Japanese had three aims: to unmask the Americans as the real enemies and to eradicate their influences; to emphasize Japan’s role as the leader of Asia; and especially with regard to Filipinos, to recover the native character lost due to years of Occidental colonization. Because it was highly popular, film was used as an instrument of propaganda.
It was Japan’s aim to mask their colonizing agenda by antagonizing the Americans (something the latter has done a lot more subtly). From the American automobile that crippled Tony to the brutalities done by white soldiers to the Filipinos, it’s a powerful early anti-American statement. The Japanese have successfully made it appear that they’re indeed heroic towards Filipinos they “freed”, at least in cinematic terms. Then again freedom doesn’t mean independence. We may seem free from Americans but we still depended on an imperialist. And as a whole big scheme of media control and control via media, the Japanese saw the rising Philippine cinema’s potential (it has been argued that the 1930s saw an early golden age for Philippine films, if only the prints survived the war) and they used it as a tool for propaganda and colonization. A contradiction so obvious it was bound to fail.
While these plans shone through DAWN OF FREEDOM, it shouldn’t be denied that the Japanese also did rather good things for the Filipinos by sharing and teaching their values (to the children especially) and educating the people in their own ways. What really caught my attention was the beautiful friendship between Tony and the Japanese soldier Ikejima. They had this certain chemistry, a bond so heartwarming I didn’t want them to part. I said before that Tony’s miraculous scene was overtly melodramatic, but once a shot of Ikejima smiling back was shown, it is suggested through that very sequence that the war should be pushed aside for the bright side of Japanese occupation: a brief but beautiful friendship. It was this simple friendship that’s the real driving force behind the false heroism of DAWN OF FREEDOM. That may be the smallest glimpse of appreciation, in a whole big book of complaints and horrific stories.
Video 48. (2011). The war years (1942-45): Part two/ propaganda movies. Retrieved September 1, 2012 from http://video48.blogspot.com/2011/03/war-years-1942-45-part-two-propaganda.html
Pinoy Kollektor. (2011). Dawn of freedom – Philippine wwii movie. Retrieved September 1, 2012 from http://pinoykollektor.blogspot.com/2011/10/48-dawn-of-freedom-philippine-wwii.html
Torre, N. (2011). Philippine cinema’s ‘golden ages’ debated anew. Retrieved September 1, 2012 from http://agimat.net/film/n110322.php