Film Title: Marai no Tora (マライの虎）
[English translation: The Tiger of Malaya]
Directed by Koga Masato (古賀聖人)
Produced by Daiei Film Co. (大映映画株式会社)
Country of Production: Japan
This war-time propaganda fictional film is broadly based on the story of Tani Yutaka, a real-life Japanese born in Terengganu who became a secret agent for the Japanese military. In the film, Tani Yutaka’s youngest sister is a victim of anti-Japanese riots by the local Chinese residents following the Japanese invasion of the northern part of China (Manchuria) in 1931. Tani Yutaka then becomes a heroic outlaw after assaulting a British police chief who sides with the Chinese conspirators who murdered his sister. He eventually adopts the ways of the Malays and is nicknamed “Harimau” (Malay word for “tiger”) during his days as a guerilla leader along the southern Thailand border. The Japanese military intelligence agency later engages him to conduct sabotage operations in British Malaya. He dies after sustaining injuries during a mission at a river dam that is controlled by British troops.
The premise of the film.
I can render a guess for the meaning of this passage using the Kanji characters: 滿洲事变 – Manchurian Incident; 華僑共產分子 – Overseas Chinese Communists; 英國海峽植民地政府，政略 – Political strategy of the British government of the Straits Settlements; 善良，華僑，日本品，不買, 強要 – Kind Chinese commoners forced to boycott Japanese goods; 各處，暴動 – Riots against the Japanese are rampant….
The Film Locations:
“The Tiger of Malaya” was deemed to be a major production of the newly established Daiei Film Company, so the filmmakers probably had the means to conduct (outdoor) location shoots across multiple places and countries. I was able to identify locations in Singapore, Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, various parts of Malaya, and Tokyo — some of which were chosen to “masquerade” as Kota Bahru, where the film narrative is set.
The following film-stills that depict the locations will be presented in the order that they have appeared in the film:
1. Jalan Kampung Pantai, Malacca?
In the film narrative, Tani Yutaka lives in Kota Bahru, British Malaya. It is the 7th year of the Showa reign, autumn.
(Real location: Probably a shophouse street in Malacca. Resembles Jalan Kampung Pantai.)
2. Malaya Photo Store. South Bridge Road.
[Updated on 11 Jan 2014: Junction of South Bridge Road and Nankin Street (now pedestrianised)]
Chen Wen Qing is keeping tabs on the ongoings in this shophouse, which is owned by a Chinese businessman who colludes with the Japanese to import cheap Japan-made products into Malaya.
(Real location: A shophouse in Singapore. The road sign looks like “South Bridge Road” to me. 馬來亞聰像 – Malaya Photo. 泰興百貨公司 – Lane Crawford, a retail company founded in Hong Kong in 1850s, which might have branches in cosmopolitan Singapore.)
3. A Fictional Victoria Street
On the list of Japanese residents of Kota Bahru to be threatened by the Chinese mob – Tani Yutaka (谷豊), a barber (理髮業) who lives on Victoria Street.
(Real location: There isn’t a Victoria Street in the real Kota Bahru. But real Victoria Streets can be found in Singapore, Canada, Australia, England and the United States.)
4. Beach in Singapore or Malaya.
Tani Yutaka takes a walk on an idyllic beach with a friend from the Japanese Club — Yasuda, a civilian businessman who is also working for the Japanese military intelligence agency. In other words, a Japanese spy.
(Real location: Possibly one of the beaches along the Malayan or Singapore coastline. If Singapore, could be Tanjong Katong or Pasir Panjang.)
5. Jalan Kampung Pantai, Malacca?
This photograph from the 1910s shows two religious places of interest on Jalan Tukung Emas, Malacca — Sri Poyatha Moorthi Temple and Kampung Kling Mosque. The third temple — Cheng Hoon Teng Temple — is on the same street but is located beyond the trees in the photograph.
How ironic that the Japanese filmmakers of “The Tiger of Malaya” chose to use “Harmony Street” in a scene that represents the desolate street conditions after the violent inter-racial riots and mobbings in the film.
6. Orchard Police Station, masquerading as Kota Bahru Police Station.
コタバル警察署 – Kota Bahru Police Station. Tani Yutaka seeks justice for the murder of his sister Shizuko by Chen Wen Qing at the local police station.
(Real location: The Orchard Road Police Station in Singapore. This police station at the junction of Orchard Road, Scotts Rd and Paterson Rd (where ION Orchard is located today) had been in existence since late 19th century, but was rebuilt at least once and finally torn down in the 1960s.)
7. The British Embassy in Tokyo
After being reproached by a British police officer who is not willing to grant them a meeting with the Police Commissioner, Yasuda, Yutaka and Sari (Yutaka’s Malay servant) leaves the police station and walks past a British colonial building.
They stop in front of the colonial building (with the UK Royal Coat of Arms mounted on the pediment) and Yasuda urges Yutaka to return home as he departs to attend to other matters. Instead, Yutaka decides to return to the police station and seek redress for Shizuko’s death with the Police Commissioner again.
(Real location: The British Embassy in Tokyo, Japan. It would have been a non-functional embassy during the Pacific War in 1943, when the film was made.)
8. Malay kampung. Coconot plantation.
Yutaka ends up assaulting the Police Commisioner at the police station and escapes to the outlying regions of the town. He finds respite at a seaside Malay kampung or coconut plantation. The villagers are singing and dancing to a joget number.
(Real location: Probably a Malay kampung or coconut plantation near a beach in Malaya or Singapore.)
9. Coastal Muslim cemetery in Singapore or Malaya
By the way, this beautiful film sequence is accompanied by a Japanese version of a popular Indonesian song “Terang Bulan” (Malay for “Moonlight”), otherwise “incarnated” as an English song “Mamula Moon“. The melody of “Terang Bulan” was later used for the state anthem of Perak (for a rather amusing reason) and adopted as the national anthem of independent Malaysia (“Negaraku“).
(Real location: A seaside Muslim cemetery in Malaya or Singapore?)
In the 1950s or earlier, there were indeed numerous Muslim cemeteries in Singapore that were situated by the sea, as the following map can testify.
So, the above film sequence from “The Tiger of Malaya” could have been shot in Singapore, say on Pulau Blakang Mati?
10. Malacca. Jalan Kampung Pantai and vicinity?
Yutaka is nicknamed “Harimau” as he becomes a heroic outlaw and leads a group of Malays to rob the rich and the colonial ruling class, using their booty to aid the poor. In these film-stills, he is chasing after Chen Wen Qing, the murderer of Shizuko, within the network of shophouse streets.
(Real location: Shophouse street in Malacca. Probably Jalan Kampung Panti. Studio.
Anyway, the “555” painted on the shophouse exterior side wall refers to the “555” brand that was associated with various kinds of merchandise (cigarettes, stainless steel pots, batteries, etc.), among them a famous one was the “State express 555” cigarettes.)
Yutaka is eventually engaged by the Japanese military intelligence agency to conduct sabotage missions on British military operations. Here, he leads his group of Malay guerillas in a mission to defuse the bombs set up by the British at a dam across the Perak River — probably the Chenderoh Dam. The British army had wanted to destroy the dam so as to flood the plains and hinder the advancement of the Japanese troops in the Battle of Malaya.
(Real location: I am not able to identify the real location of this dam. Parts of this sequence could have been shot in a studio in Tokyo. Several other outdoor locations could be in Malaya.)
12. Kuala Lumpur. Sultan Abdul Samad Building.
Yutaka passed away after sustaining injuries during the sabotage operation at the dam. The film ends with (documentary?) shots of the triumphant advance of the Japanese 25th Army in the Battle of Malaya. The final shot of the film shows the Japanese troops reaching Kuala Lumpur.
(Real location: On a road leading to the Sultan Abdul Samad Building in Kuala Lumpur, then the capital of the Federated Malay States.)
In the post-war years, the story of Tani Yutaka “Harimau” evolved into a persistent myth about the heroic Japanese that liberates the oppressed native underclass of the European colonies. Harimau, the alter-ego of Tani Yutaka, is also popularised as the leading character in a 1960s Japanese television series “Kaiketsu Harimao” (or “Fast Thief Harimao”). I managed to find excerpts of the TV series being posted on Youtube, and to my surprise, I realised that some episodes were shot in Southeast Asia, eg. Angkor Wat in Cambodia…
Film-stills from “Fast Thief Harimao”. It is unmistakably shot in Angkor Thom, Cambodia.
Harimao wears sunglasses and a white turban, looks and acts very differently from the Harimau depicted in the 1943 “The Tiger of Malaya”. This fast thief Harimao is a comic hero.
The myth of Harimao has also “transmogrified” into other forms in contemporary Japanese popular culture. This website provides a good overview of the “Many Lives of The Tiger of Malaya”.
The real life Tani Yutaka is believed to have passed away in a hospital in Singapore. That may be reason enough for him to be commemorated in the Japanese Cemetery Park at Chuan Hoe Avenue in Singapore. I have presented photographs of the cemetery park in an earlier post about the documentary film “Mare Senki”(“Malayan War Record”).
The following photographs of the cemetery park focus on Tani Yutaka’s memorial stone: