Location Scouting in “Malayan War Record: A Record of the Offensive” (1942) Part 1

Film Title:  Mare Senki: Shingeki no kiroku (マレー戦記: 進撃の記錄)
[English translation: Malayan War Record: A Record of the Offensive]

Year: 1942
Produced by Nihon Eigasha (日本映画社) & the Press Section of the Yamashita Corps (山下兵團報道班员)
under the supervision of the Ministry of War (陸軍省).
Edited by Ida Shinbi (飯田心美)
Cinematography by Kameyama Matsutaro, Press Section of the Yamashita Corps (亀山松太郎, 山下兵團報道班员)  and Nihon Eigasha Journalists (日本映画社特派員).
Country of Production: Japan

Synopsis:

Assembled from Japanese war news footage and confiscated British newsreels, this propagandistic feature-length documentary film records the Japanese military operations against the British on the Malayan Peninsula and Singapore from December 1941 through February 1942, culminating in the British surrender of Singapore to the Japanese. It is the first of a two-part series titled “Malayan War Record” (Mare Senki; マレー戦記).

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Before the documentary began proper.
To notify the audience that the film had used captured footage shot by the enemy.

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A variety of maps of Malaya and Singapore are presented in the documentary.
“英領马来” refers to British Malaya. “スマトラ” refers to Sumatra. “シンガポール” refers to Singapore.
Lower left: A three-prong attack by the three divisions of the Japanese 25th Army – 5th and 18th Infantry Divisions, and the Imperial Guards Division.
Lower right: Map of Singapore, the final destination of the Malayan campaign. The Sembawang naval bases, the various air bases and other key targets are highlighted.

The Film Locations:

“Mare Senki: Shingeki no kiroku” is a morale-boosting propaganda documentary film aimed at the Japanese population whose moral, economic and financial support is much needed for the war effort that spans huge tracts of the Pacific region. It is also directed at the “new subjects” of the Japanese empire in the Southeast Asian region, with the intent of claiming superiority over their past masters — the British colonialists.

Unlike short newsreels items that report on isolated events and happenings, this documentary compiles numerous footage from the war front and threads them together into a coherent whole — a filmic document that narrates the major events of the Malayan Offensive by the Japanese 25th Army led by General Tomoyuki Yamashita; in chronological order, and from the perspective of the Japanese victors.

There are events-locations depicted in the film that hold utmost importance to the Japanese, but which may never be mentioned in the countless books written by British or Australian war veterans — the defeated who would want to focus their writings on their gallantry and suffering as prisoners-of-war. In fact, I do face difficulty identifying some of the events-locations depicted in the film because they are not touched upon in the Pacific war literature written by the British, Australians or even Singaporeans. I have virtually no reference in that respect.

I don’t read or speak Japanese and I have access to merely a small number of English translations of Japanese war veterans’ accounts of the Malayan war — eg. Masanobu Tsuji’s “Singapore, the Japanese Version” and Henry Frei’s “Guns of February”. Moreover, I have watched “Mare Senki; Shingeki no kiroku” without English subtitles, so I can’t understand much of what is said in the voice-over narration, unless there are texts or intertitles to guide me — I can roughly derive the meaning of the Japanese “kanji” characters.

So, expect some speculations and guesses for the film locations presented below. The locations and film-stills will be presented in the same order as they had appeared in the documentary. And since the focus of this blog is on filmmaking in Singapore, only film locations in Singapore will be covered (the ones in Malaya will be left out).

1. Keppel Harbour (Singapore Harbour Board) / Sembawang Naval Base

As mentioned in a couple of earlier posts, the Keppel Harbour was where many reinforcement troops from Australia and India would disembark. Another disembarkation point for troops from overseas was the Sembawang Naval Base. The footage of the Australian troops disembarking were definitely shot in Keppel Harbour — the buildings by the wharf were distinctly found in Keppel Harbour. I am not entirely sure about the footage of the Indian Troops disembarking though. They could be shot in either Keppel or Sembawang.


“濠洲兵マレー到着”.  The Australian Army arrives in Malaya.

By the way, “Mare Senki” is presented in black and white, and I don’t reckon that there is an existing colour version of it. However, you will find that I have posted some film-stills in colour. This is because I have used film-stills extracted from other documentaries which have used the same footage as in “Mare Senki”, but with them restored in colour.

According to Dan Schneider in a DVD review, many of the classic war footage that we see in documentary war films were “actually color footage, but the stock had been so washed out and degraded that only black and white versions were ever exhibited.”


From the National Archives: TAN KAH KEE AND THE WELL-WISHERS TAKEN AT THE SINGAPORE HARBOUR BOARD ON 5.5.49. Compare the location setting for this photograph with the lower right picture of the group of film-stills from “Mare Senki” above. Notice the same building design in both pictures.
Keppel Harbour was managed by the Singapore Harbour Board then.
(Note: The circular highlight in the photo of Tan Kah Kee is my addition.)

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“印度兵到着” – Arrival of the Indian Army.
What a dilemma they would be facing. Whose freedom were they fighting for?

2. Coastal areas of Singapore

The documentary shows footage of preparations for war in British Malaya, probably from confiscated British filmreels. Coastal defence. I reckon that these footage were shot in Singapore.


Coastal defence. Mosquito protection for Australian soliders.
I never wore these things when I was in the army. They sure looked amusing to me.


Coastal defence. Wooden barricades with concertina wire.
Now, they still have such barricades set up along the north-western coast of Singapore, eg. Pulau Ubin and Lim Chu Kang, to deter illegal immigrants from swimming across the straits from Johore Bahru.


River patrol boat. Presented matter-of-factly.

3. Raffles Statue at the Victoria Memorial Hall / Raffles Place

After briefly showing how the enemy prepares for the Japanese offensive, “Mare Senki” moves into a somewhat sombre reflection on history and power.

I quote from Peter B. High’s “The Imperial Screen: Japanese Film Culture in the Fifteen Years’ War 1931-1945” (2003):

      “Rather than overt ridicule (of the enemy), Ida’s editing seeks to build a sense of great historic irony. The next sequence presents an image that will later be used for ironic effect. It starts with a pan down the clock tower of the Singapore Government House (my correction: it should be the Victoria Memorial Hall) to a bronze statue in front — that of Stamford Raffles, the nineteenth century founder of the city. Next, a medium shot of the statue is accompanied by narration explaining that Raffles had, more than 120 year before, recognized Singapore’s preeminent importance to the British Empire. The camera dollies in so that Raffle’s image, his arms folded in a pensive pose, fills the screen. Shot from the base of the statue, the figure seems to tower above the viewer in an oppressive manner: ‘And there it stood, the arrogant statue of Raffles, set up to commemorate the victory of the British Empire.'”


“ラッフルズ銅像” – Bronze statue of Raffles. What is that on the second film-still on the right column? A blemish…

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Immediately after the shots of Raffles’ statue, the film cuts to the small statue on top of the Raffles’ Chamber which was housing the Robinsons Departmental Store. (18 Oct 2012 update: The statue is of Mercury, a messenger of god and a god of trade and merchants.) And a long tracking shot across an abnormally quiet Battery Road and Raffles Place follows…


Empty streets, but teeming with fear.
The last two pictures on the final row show that there was a pillbox planted in Raffles Place during the war.
They should have conserved that.

Thereafter, the film launches into a technical (but still propagandistic) account of how the Japanese army fought their way down the length of the Malayan Peninsula. At the 30th minute mark, the invading forces finally arrived at Johore Bahru and the paramount objective of the Malayan Campaign is revealed on screen…


シンガポールへ! Shingaporu!

4. Johor Straits

The Japanese army regrouped themselves in Johor Bahru and prepared for an all-out offensive on the island of Singapore, where all British, Australian and Indian troops had retreated to. Then they launched an extended artillery barrage, aiming at several prime targets in Singapore, including the air bases, oil tanks and other military installations. They also scrutinized the Johor Straits and pondered over the most opportune time and place to strike a land offensive.


“ジョホール水道”. A view of the Johor Straits from Johor Bahru. Singapore lies across the straits. A portion of the Causeway had been blown up by the retreating British army.


Observation balloons were sent above the straits to direct artillery fire to the prime targets in Singapore

The commencement date of the all-out land offensive — Showa 17 Years, 8th February.
All-out attack on Singapore.



By then, Singapore was covered in smoke and fires at the oil tanks raged on.

5. Sarimbun Beach? Lim Chu Kang Road? Ama Keng Village?

On the night of 8 Feb 1942, the Japanese invading forces — the 5th Division — were despatched in rafts and boats that travelled down Sungei Skudai in Johore Bahru into the Johor Straits and landed in Singapore on Sarimbun Beach and the Lim Chu Kang coastline. Some of the Japanese forces would face fierce resistance by soldiers of the Australian 2/20 Battalion and the Dalforce Company. In this attack, the Japanese used as direction, the fire from Ama Keng village which was burning after having been hit by artillery fire.


This map from the Australian War Memorial provides an overview of the Japanese land assault. Some of the Japanese soldiers would spot areas where nobody was firing at them and guided their boats to the gap between D Company and A company. (Coy is short for Company)

The following film-stills from the documentary could have been shot at the locations where there were no enemy fire, or after the Australian and Dalforce soldiers have retreated to the rear to hold the defence line at Tengah Air Base instead.


1st row left: Travelling on the Johor Straits. Is that the famous Lim Chu Kang house on the pier, that was owned by the Cashin family after the war?
1st row right and 2nd row: Landing on Sarimbun and Lim Chu Kang beaches?
3rd row: Advancing along Lim Chu Kang Road, past Ama Keng Village which was on fire?

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I visited the Lim Chu Kang area over a few afternoons to explore the locations where the documentary may have been shot. Here is a selection of the photographs I took during walks around Lim Chu Kang Road End, The Cashin House on the Pier, Sarimbun and Ama Keng Village:

 

6. Tengah Air Field

The Tengah Air Field was the first objective of the Japanese land assault plan, and it was occupied shortly before noon on 9 February 1942. Later that day General Yamashita moved his headquarters up to the base.


“テンガ-飛行場” – Tengah Air Field. Indian soldiers surrendered their arms.
The above sets of film-stills were edited next to one another in the film, so it is suggested by the film editors that the footage on the right was from the Tengah Airfield.

7. Mandai Hill

After Tengah airfield, the next strategic object was “Bukit Timah”, the 177-metre “Tin Hill” that sheltered reservoirs and essential provision dumps. Part of the next phase of the assault plan was also to have the Imperial Guards Division take Mandai Village and Mandai Hill, and cut eastwards to Nee Soon to isolate any British forces in and around the Sembawang Naval Base.


“マンダイ高地” – Mandai High Ground or Mandai Hill. General Yamashita with his binoculars.

8. Ford Motor Factory at Bukit Timah

By 13th February, Bukit Timah Hill and the water reservoir were captured by the Japanese and Singapore began to suffer water shortages, while food and gasoline were also scarce.


“ブキテマ高地” – Bukit Timah High Ground or Bukit Timah Hill.
Commonwealth troops surrender to the Japanese in Bukit Timah. Ford Motor Factory in the background.

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On the morning of 15th February, Lt. General Arthur Percival, the General Officer Commanding for Malaya, called for a Senior Commander’s Conference at Fort Canning to discuss the fate of Singapore. The outcome of the meeting was a decision to surrender. Percival had said that he “reluctantly decided to accept the advice of the senior officers present and to capitulate.”

Percival had wanted to meet Yamashita in the city, but Yamashita insisted on the British surrender party to meet him at his headquarters in the Fort Motor Factory near Bukit Timah Village in the late afternoon. The following film-stills, extracted from a much-quoted sequence in the documentary, would show the proceedings of the surrender in and around the Ford Motor Factory. The building is still standing today and it has since been converted into a war museum by the National Archives of Singapore, and renamed “Memories at Old Ford Factory”.


The British surrender party, which included Lt Gen Percival, Major Cyril Wild (who carried the white flag), Brigadier Thomas Newbigging (who carried the Union Jack) and Brigadier Kenneth Torrance, were led by Colonel Ichiji Sugita to the Ford Motor Factory for the meeting with General Yamashita.

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General Yamashita arrived in a car camouflaged with palm leaves. He enters the boardroom of the Fort Factory for the meeting with Percival.
Note: The green Japanese text are lyrics of a propagandistic war anthem. I had taken the film stills from a good quality “music video” uploaded onto Youtube (but it had since been taken down for reasons unknown to me.) The video had used footage from “Mare Senki”.

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The view through the windows of the factory boardroom.

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Yamashita raged. Percival surrendered.

This film sequence above has been replayed in countless documentaries about the fall of Singapore during World War II. During the time when it was first released in Japan, it provoked great joy and applause in the movie theaters. It was the highlight of the film.

Though it was meant to be a documentary, a postwar revelation from the Yamashita Corps Press Section Officer on site, Kameyama Matsutaro, revealed that the scene at the Fort Factory had actually been doctored for the screen. Peter B. High’s “The Imperial Screen” contained the following quote from Kameyama:

“On that fateful day we were the only camera crew allowed at the meeting … Since the tempo of the actual negotiations was very slow, I got the idea of under-cranking the camera, which of course has the effect of speeding things up on screen. This tended to emphasize the salient traits of the two main characters. Yamashita looks even more decisive and Percival appears actually quailing. So I would say it was a big success.”

Thus, a nondescript conversation became a rousing confrontation. A very effective piece of propaganda.

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The famous scene of the surrender meeting between Yamashita and Percival in the Ford Factory would also be recreated in an amusing sequence in a feature length animation for children — “Momotaro: Divine Warriors of the Sea” (1944), directed by Mituyo Seo.


“桃太郎” – Momotaro. “海の神兵” – Divine Warriors of the Sea.


Soldiers who are defending the Ogre Island surrender to Momotaro and his cutesy warriors.


A “remake” of the Ford Factory boardroom scene. The personas of Yamashita and Percival are replaced by Momotaro and a horned military commanding officer of Ogre Island.


An amusing parady of the famous scene from “Mare Senki”.

Oh gosh, propaganda for the young and innocent. Indoctrination of the children. Maybe they grew up to be the ultra-nationalists in Japan today.

[to be continued… the next post will present selected film locations shot after the surrender…]

………

LOCATION SCOUTING IN “MALAYAN WAR RECORD: A RECORD OF THE OFFENSIVE”

This is Part 1 – Before and During The Surrender.
Part 2 – After The Surrender.
Part 3 – Prisoners of War.
………

8 comments on “Location Scouting in “Malayan War Record: A Record of the Offensive” (1942) Part 1

  1. Choon Lee says:

    Dear Hun Ping

    I am a teacher from Greenridge Primary School. My group has been tasked to do Social Studies project on the fall of Bukit Timah and the surrounding area during World War II.
    During our research, we came across your blogs about the area and the history. Needless to say, we were impressed by the wealth of information and pictures in the blogs. We felt that it would contribute greatly to our project.
    We would like to correspond with you further via email.
    We look forward to receiving your favourable reply soon.

    Warmest Regards
    Choon Lee

  2. URGENT: I am working on a major BBC event for the commemoration of VJ Day in August 2015. I would very much like locate a copy of this film for inclusion in our broadcast as one of our main areas of interest is the civilian prisoners on war especially in Singapore. Where can I find this film, National Archive Singapore, in Japan, or perhaps you have a copy? Either way, I would be very grateful if you could get back to me as a matter of urgency. Many thanks, Michael Lewis, BBC VJ 70.

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