2011 / Lecture Note:Movie project about “Tokyo Rose” by filmmaker Terry Sanders

Nibei Tokyo Rose Filmmaker Terry Sanders

Filmmaker Terry Sanders talks about his new project "Tokyo Rose." (Cultural News Photo)

The Nibei Foundation – Japan Study Club

11570 West Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

June 14, 2011

Terry Sanders, 80-year-old, is a master film maker and a two-time Oscar winner and producer of numerous noted film documentaries.  Among some of his works are documentaries on Marilyn Monroe; Lillian Gish, first lady of the silent screen; and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy.

His present documentary film project is about the Japanese-American Ivar Ikuko Toguri who was wrongly convicted of treason right after WWII.

About ten years ago, Mr. Sanders received a telephone call regarding a draft of a screenplay called “They called Her Tokyo Rose.”   It contained material from the same title of the book by Rex Gun who was a reporter that had been at the trial of Toguri.

Mr. Gun had made it his life work to get the background story of this incredible trial that he felt was so outrageous and unfair to Toguri.

Toguri was born in Los Angeles, ironically on the 4th of July.  She was a graduate of UCLA. In the summer of 1941, she was sent by her family to Japan to help her ailing aunt.  Soon after, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, she became stuck in Japan.  She was a Nisei-American who was harassed by the Japanese security police.

She could not get permission to return to America and was practically starving at the time. She started with a job typing English broadcasts for Radio Tokyo and later became one of a group of twelve women known collectively as “Tokyo Rose.”

The American G.I.s heard this broadcast and nicknamed the female broadcaster as “Tokyo  Rose.” This program was an English-language propaganda broadcast transmitted by Radio Tokyo to Allied soldiers during WWII.

This broadcast became extremely popular among the American servicemen. In reality, there never really existed such an individual by the name of “Tokyo Rose.” Toguri merely read scripts for the station that were given to her.

When the war ended, most Americans basically only heard of three  Japanese parties; namely, Tojo, Hirohito, and Tokyo Rose.  In the aftermath of the war, President Harry Truman was accused of being too  soft on traitors and felt pressured to prosecute Toguri.

She wanted to return to the US, but was told to denounce her American citizenship which she refused to do.  She was told she could only return to the US if she agreed to stand trial.

As she knew she was innocent of any charges, she returned to stand the trial. Wayne Collins, who had previously defended many Japanese-Americans who had been stripped of their basic civil rights, took up her case. Unfortunately for Toguri, there materialized two witnesses who committed perjury against her.

This trail proved to be the longest and most expensive trial in US history up until to that time.  She was accused on nine counts and at the end of the trial was acquitted on eight and there was a hung jury that lasted for four days on the last one.  On this last count, she was finally found guilty.  Toguri was sentenced to ten years in prison and lost her citizenship.  She was known as “little nurse” in prison.

She served six years of the ten years for good behavior.  The government then wanted to deport her to Japan, but Collins again fought for her for two years and won.  He also tried to get her last conviction count overturned, but failed.  Later Wayne Collin’s son, Wayne Collins Jr.,  picked up her case and in 1974, President Gerald Ford signed the pardon for Toguri; nonetheless, the past conviction stood.

Mr. Sanders is presently working on a future documentary on Toguri.  He feels that this story is an example of one of the grossest and most disgraceful miscarriages of justice.  He said that he is always looking for an example of a great story with characters whose stories have a reason to be told.  He has already found the main actress to play Toguri and through this film hopes to reach millions of people with the story of Toguri.

A  Q & A session followed the lecture.

Q:        What type of financing is necessary and about how long will it take to make this upcoming film?

A:         It will take a minimum of $3,000,000 to make the film; $6,000,000 preferably.  The time frame is six months of preparation, including 10 weeks to film and eight to nine months to edit.

Mr. Sanders plans to first show the documentary at UCLA’s Royce Hall and then go on to show it at the film festivals to locate distributors.

Also, through a friend in Denmark, he was introduced to a Japanese-American actress from USC to play Toguri.  This movie, he feels, will surely launch her career.

Mr. Sanders said this film will be based on actual documents and facts; though, of course, some dramatic license will to be taken.

Mr. De Wolf, the chief prosecutor had written some memos stating that there really was no legitimate case against Toguri and advised against bringing it to trail.  The trial was mainly initiated for political reasons. Mr.  De Wolf later shot himself.

Q:        Was this a case of “smoking gun?”  What was the evidence in the case?

A:         There was broad witness intimidation.  Also, the judge favored the prosecution.

Q:        Have you been in touch with her family?

A:         Her family has a store in Chicago.  Toguri did not want to meet me personally and she died about two or three years ago. Nonetheless, I have met some of her relatives and have their support.

This is was a very informative and interesting lecture. We are all anxious and excited over the future showing of this movie.