WWII Movie Portrayals of Japanese?

In the WWII era, when movie directors portrayed the japanese , did they make any effort to have the (usually Chinese-American actors) speak anything resembling atual japanese, or was it just gibberish?
For instance, I was watching an old print of “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo”, and the actors portraying japanese generals seem to be speaking an unknown language-were the actors just tpold to spout some gibberish? To me it sounded like “wang sgo chunk gao ing gao”-or did the scripts feature dialogue in real japanese?

Well, I saw a clip from one, once, that featured a Japanese officer trying to listen in on a tapped/captured communications line, but dismissing it with a recognizable “dame das!” (or however the proper spelling is for that particular phrase and usage) when he found it was being used by Navajo code talkers.

However, as the film apparently featured code talkers explicitly, I imagine this might not have been from the war years—bolstered by the fact that the only film I can find aside from 2002’s “Windtalkers” that features the code talkers was from 1959. So there’s that.

Dame desu, keeping in mind that there are no silent letters in transliterated Japanese, and the trailing ‘u’ on desu is usually not voiced or barely voiced (depending on the regional accent and/or individual).

“Tora! Tora! Tora!” was famously a Japanese-American effort, with Japanese actors who had their dialogue written for a Japanese audience.

According to wikipedia (citing an article that no longer exists) the Navajo code talkers were declassified in 1968 (and boy did they need a bathroom) - what film mentioned code talkers in 1959?

On the Pratchett Annotated file, about Interesting Times, they mention the (uncomfirmed) legend that, when Hollywood was churning out movies during WWII to keep morale, where John Wayne types slaughtered Japanese, the actors actually were Koreans and similar (since the real Japanese were mostly in the internment camps). So, the legend goes, one director came up with the idea to have them shout very fast “I tie your shoe, you tie my shoe” as an approximation of Japanese-sounding.
Since the roles of the faux-Japanese weren’t very large - they had to be killed by the American hero - and since Hollywood during and for some decades after that had trouble with portaying minorities with any sensitivity or concern for accuracy - look at how many WASPs played Native Americans or Japanese, instead of just hiring real people from that group; or how Hollywood Westerns for decades portrayed the Native Americans defending their own country and culture in distorted light - this sounds plausible to me.

Political correctness and “respect” aside, even the most basic technical accuracy was a spotty thing at best in films made in that era, and movies were ground out in such quantity that it would have been rare for a director to expend much concern about such matters.

For example, any war movie made in the 1950s or later generally has at least basically accurate uniforms for the enemy, as actual ones became accessible as war trophys and could be readily examined and duplicated. Wartime films often feature only the crudest approximations – Take an old WWI German uniform from All Quiet on the Western Front, stick a big tin swastika on the hat, and voila: a Nazi officer!

So the likelihood of any wartime studio going to the trouble of finding a Japanese-speaking advisor to come up with the dialog for the script, or even of getting a Japanese-English dictionary from a major library, is pretty slim.

Exactly. No one cared if the Japanese was real or not. Whatever they said was arbitrarily assumed by the audience to be Japanese and they went back to concentrating on the movie, not trivial nitpicking.

It lists Never So Few, in the same article. I’ve never seen it myself, though.

The Production Code Administration had a rule against using gibberish as foreign languages; they required that all dialogue in a foreign language be spelled out in the script, with an English translation, to ensure that nothing inappropriate was spoken. Thus, for example, the natives in King Kong (1933) were speaking an actual language, although I forget which.

Hi Walloon, is this the same Code you are talking about?


Yes, but what I am referring to is an enforcement rule the Production Code Administration used to administer the Code. Specifically, to enforce the section of the Code dealing with offensive language.

From Hollywood’s Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration, by Thomas Doherty, p. 113:

All the above aside, there’s just no way that the “gibberish” would’ve been left in the hands of the individual actors. Even nowadays, whenever there’s a crowd scene, and the background voices are looped in later (ADR), each line is written and spoken by an actor, no matter how much it’s obscured in the final mix. Think about it: if a director said to a bunch of actors: “Say something that sounds vaguely Japanese,” each actor would sound different. And most of them would sound ridiculous. I have no doubt, regardless of what the language actually was, that each line was written beforehand.

I didn’t see anything in the Code as displayed on Wikipedia that prohibited gibberish. I can see where there might be suspicion about foreign language indecency that would require a translation to be provided, and that actors wouldn’t be trusted to ad lib gibberish (lest they babble something naughty, accidentally or on purpose), but I’m not sure that would rule out something like the “I tie your shoe, you tie my shoe” that constanze described above.

If translations were required, then I guess maybe a screenwriter did have to refer to a Japanese-English dictionary, though such translations would almost certainly not reflect correct grammar or idiom.

Did that apply to John Belushi when he did he “samurai” routine?

That had absolutely nothing to do with the production code. Go to the wiki link and read the article.

No. SNL was a) post-code, and b) TV, which wasn’t subject to the Code.

Again, it was not part of the Code, it was an administrative rule used to enforce the language section of the Code.

P.S. Note that much of that Wikipedia article summarizes the Code, and does not quote it in full.

So did they ever really have a Japanese character yelling, "YOU DIE JOE!’?

I don’t understand the question…

In either the Sands of Iwo Jima, or Halls of Montezuma (I forget which), there was a scene set at nightime on an invasion beachhead, and (purportedly) Japanese soldiers are shouting out taunts, in English, at the movie’s hero and his fellow Marines. (“Down with Marines!”)

Are you asking if they actually used Japanese extras to shout the lines for the filming?

It’s a bit of a cliche to have the japanese soldier yelling out, “YOU DIE JOE!” in some of these films. But I don’t know if it really happened in any of the real wartime films or if later parodies or satirical accounts invented it.