Maximum Russell Crowe

Blood Oath
(aka Prisoners of the Sun)

Lieutenant Jack Corbett

What it's about:

Blood Oath is the harrowing story of the trials conducted on Ambon (then still part of the Dutch East Indies) soon after the end of World War II. Ninety-one Japanese officers and other ranks were charged with atrocities committed against Australian prisoners of war on the island, hundreds of whom had died of brutal treatment or had been cold-bloodedly murdered.

Also Starring:

Bryan Brown (Captain Cooper), George Takei (Vice-Admiral Baron Takahashi), John Polson (Private Jimmy Fenton), Ray Barrett (President of the Bench), Toshi Shioya (Lt. Tanaka), John Clark (Sheedy), Deborah Unger

Director: Steven Wallace

Screenplay: Denis Whitburn, Brian A. Williams

Budget: 7 million (Australian)

Location: Queensland, Australia

Opened in Australia July 26, 1990

Available on video and DVD


Did you know?

This is Russell's first film. He is very much a supporting player but manages to be seen onscreen quite a bit, as Captain Cooper's (Bryan Brown) assistant.

Ray Barrett plays Russell's father in .

John Polson plays Greg (Russell's love interest) in Sum Of Us

This was also John Polson's first major film role - and he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor along with Toshi Shioya (Lt. Tanaka) at the 1990 AFI Awards (Thanks to Brian A. Williams)

George Takei starred as Sulu in the original Star Trek and is mentioned quite prominently in

Deborah Unger later starred in The Hurricane with Denzel Washington ().

In November 1998, a Tokyo court rejected a demand for compensation by soldiers and civilians from Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the United States who were held prisoner by Japanese troops during World War II.


What Others Have to Say:

Brian A. Williams on Russell:

"He is a rarity - a straight shooter, committed to his craft at the highest level, and a bloody good bloke!" (To Maximum Crowe, 2001)

John Clarke on Russell:

"[He] did a hell of a lot more work than the role required. It didn't matter what he needed to do, it was like 'I'll bloody do it'." (Interview with Janine Burke, 2001)

Steven Wallace on Russell:

"A total professional, a very friendly, straightforward guy." (Interview with Janine Burke, 2001)

Deborah Unger, Bryan Brown, Russell
(Photo special thanks to Brian A. Williams)

A Maximum Crowe Exclusive:

Brian A. Williams (writer / producer of Blood Oath) was kind enough to share with us the following:

Blood Oath is based on a true story about my father, John Williams who was the Army prosecutor (Captain Cooper/ Bryan Brown) of the largest war crimes trial of alleged B and C class Japanese criminals. The trial of 91 officers and men was commenced on Ambon in January 1946 and completed in March 46 on Morotai island. Over 50% of the accused Japanese were acquitted, a testament to the extraordinary application of the presumption of innocence by the Australian War Crimes tribunals who supervised the trials. Even more extraordinary when one considers that the Ambon camp had the highest POW mortality rate i.e 75%, of any of the POW camps run by the Japanese in South East Asia.

In the film, Russell plays Dad's assistant, who was actually a half Dutch/Japanese interpreter, who was to meet my father after 45 years again when the film premiered in Sydney on July 26, 1990. I felt the character should be in the Australian Army hierarchy (Lt. Jack Corbett) as we already had enough conflict on the Japanese side, not to add more with someone who would be regarded by the Japanese as a traitor - this was one of many 'dramatic' decisions which would bemuse my father and other survivors but it was for the best, I feel.

My father had brought a large amount of material back from the trials to Australia - transcripts, photos, statements etc - which I discovered in a black box in the family garage in 1965 when I was 12. 25 years later the result was BLOOD OATH.

For me, just getting the film made against all the odds and my own doubts was a triumph. I was assisted in this by my joint writer and producer Denis Whitburn who gave many years of his life to helping me get the film made.

However, the truly great day was the opening of the film on April 5, 1991 in Tokyo. The tremendous courage of our main Japanese star Toshi Shioya in getting Warner Bros. to preview the film and the huge debate then raging about Japan sending troops to the Gulf, post Desert Storm, in violation of Japan's constitution, had created a media avalanche which focussed on BLOOD OATH as THE EXAMPLE of why Japan should NOT send troops to the Gulf.

At the first preview in Tokyo, the actual Japanese veterans of Ambon, the former defendants who faced my father in 1946, saw the film. A number of them were now in very high positions in Japanese business and government. They came out of the film and told the assembled media that 'all Japanese' should see this film as it was 'fair and very balanced'.

This statement came as a tremendous shock to my father and myself. Who would've thought this possible? But then the really 'impossible' happened. Warner Bros decided to release the film - and the Japanese veterans would host my father as the Guest of Honour at its opening. Here, in front of all the assembled Japanese and international media, and the governments of both countries, the Chairman of the Japanese Veterans, Mr Ninomiya gave a landmark speech in which he stated: "I wish to apologise for the mistake Japan has made and we should not repeat the same mistake'.

This is, to my knowledge, the only public statement of unqualified apology made by a former Japanese military officer since World War 2.

This was acknowledged by the Australian Embassy as a 'watershed' speech in the history of Australia and Japan, and something the Australian government had attempted to achieve for many years. It was given extensive coverage and analysis in all the Japanese media and led to my father being something of a celebrity and the subject of a number of Japanese TV documentaries. It also gave him a new lease of life, as he found himself in continuous correspondence with the Japanese veterans for three years afterwards until his death in early 1994 at the age of 78.

My father was given the unique honour of a Japanese funeral at the same time as our funeral in Sydney, Australia. The main Japanese actors, led by Toshi, and the veterans' chairman Mr Ninomiya attended it in a famous Tokyo Zen Temple, the ceremony conducted by the Reverend Kazuo Eda, himself a famous film producer in his own right. This was the same Temple in which the Reverend Eda had honoured my father three years earlier with a special 'samurai tea ceremony' after the films Tokyo opening.'

This completed an extraordinary 'tide in the affairs of men' as my father's final permission to give us the go ahead to use his material occurred only a few years before the death of Emperor Hirohito. And Hirohito's death in 1989, just as we were about to start pre-production on BLOOD OATH, was of tremendous significance for us as it removed the shadow hanging over the best Japanese actors, who now felt they could sign on for the film with far more confidence. My father, if anything. had a great sense of timing - and he also realised that it was probably only after a lapse of nearly two generations that this traumatic material could be viewed with some sort of perspective from both sides. Perhaps the sad fact now is that the Japanese government is still in denial over much of what occurred and continues to authorise the distribution of school history books which continue to gloss over the war, citing events as the Nanking Massacre as an 'incident' or worse still, a 'fabrication'. And Japan still has not engaged in the thorough reconciliation and atonement process undertaken by Germany since 1945 in respect of the Holocaust.

As for BLOOD OATH, the good news is that we are planning a DVD release of the film soon, which will have both layers of interviews/ historical material and, hopefully, Russell doing some commentary about the film. We believe that a film of this quality and impact, in which Russell plays his first major film role, should now be seen by a wider public than when it had a short theatrical release, particularly in the US in summer 1991 (where it was overshadowed by Terminator 2)

Vice Admiral Ichise (real name) was still alive when my father was in Tokyo in 1991. The Vice Admiral was 101 at that time, but too ill to meet my father.

The Vice Admiral was partly based on VA Ichise but mainly on a subordinate officer Baron Takasaki, a British educated aristocratic officer, who had significant conflict with our main character Lt Hideo Tanaka, over the treatment of the Australian prisoners and who had been acquitted of all charges by an Australian Tribunal before the arrival of Lt Tanaka for his trial. The role is played superbly by George Takei, who of course is famous as Mr Sulu, the Starship Enterprise navigator in the Star Trek films and TV series. And the main Japanese character, the Christian Japanese Lt Tanaka was actually based on a Christian Japanese officer, Lt Hideo Katayama, who had survived the bombing of Hiroshima, after being posted back there in July 1945. Of course the irony was that he surrendered to the Australian War Crimes tribunal, only to face charges of executing Australian pilots who had allegedly bombed civilians on Ambon!

The big dramatic licence we took was the addition of the American interest in the Baron's acquittal, as we created him as a relative of the Emperor and therefore of interest to the Yanks who had excluded the Emperor from prosecution in the Tokyo Trial and were recruiting a cabal of anti Communist Japanese military to help reconstruct Japan, principally as a bulwark against the expansionist ambitions of the Soviet Union. Australia was opposed to the immunity granted to the Emperor, a position clearly put by Bryan Brown in the film to Major Beckett (Terry O'Quinn). I was inspired to include the Americans as the third part of the 'triangle' with Australia and Japan through my knowledge of this and through my viewing of the famous 4 hour Japanese documentary THE TOKYO TRIAL( TOKYO SAIBAN, Jap.) released by Kodansha in 1985 to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War.

Its director was the famous Masako Kobayashi, who had made the 13 hour epic, THE HUMAN CONDITION, a film that was to be the inspiration for Kubrick's FULL METAL JACKET. But its producer was the Rev. Kazuo Eda! At the first Tokyo preview, where I met the Japanese veterans for the first time, I also was introduced to the Rev. Eda who immediately praised my film as one of the 'best films about war ever made'.! But then he stated that I 'must've seen his film and perhaps been influenced by it.' I could only but agree and we became instant friends.

His behind the scenes influence on the film's subsequent release was significant, as, just as he had the TOKYO TRIAL release in 1985 when Hirohito was still alive, he had dialogue with both the Yakuza bosses and the Royal Household to ensure the film's trouble free release. He is also a major supporter on our next Japanese Australian epic GIANTS AT DAWN, which travels time from the Pacific War to the present day.'

Also - the acquittal of the Takahashi/ other High command people and/or their non appearance at War Crimes tribunals in Singapore, Java etc at that time had much to do with another secret deal orchestrated by Macarthur and General Willoughby, his G2 chief of intelligence to give immunity from prosecution to Major General Ishii and other members of the infamous Unit 731, in exchange for their scientific research. Unit 731 was the Japanese biological/ chemical warfare unit whose main death lab was in Manchuria but whose tropical lab was in Java and Singapore, with experiments on POWs as a prime activity throughout Indonesia. Their horrific experiments had been responsible for the death of thousands of Chinese and Allied POWs in these places. This 'deal with the devil', together with the mass civilian bombing of Japanese cities, both atomic and otherwise, set the precedent I feel for all the horrendous civilian slaughter we have seen practiced by all the major powers since WW2.

I only discovered this by carefully checking over records for that period in 1997/98 when these anomalies became clear ( it also explained all the strange references to experiments on the Ambon POWs by the camp doctor in my father's transcripts of evidence. I presented all this information in Moscow in 1999 at the 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Geneva Convention, where the film and I were honored guests of the International Red Cross and the Russian Director's Guild.)

All of the above suggest that the 'true' historical project remains to be made, whether as a film or mini series. The deal that the US did with both the Japanese scientists and the Nazis ( in the form of General Gehlen and SS Intelligence, a fact only now admitted by the CIA and the background to the X Files' obsession with Project Paperclip, which imported all those Nazis into the US) But it would kind of rock the foundations of the American mythology of being the pure, uncorrupted defender of the free world, wouldn't it? The surviving judges from the Tokyo Trial (of Tojo and the Japanese High Command) issued a statement in 1990, stating that if they had known of this horrendous crime, it would've been a major part of the Indictment and that it had destroyed much of their faith in their original judgement!

Also, the US knew of the so-called comfort women, sex slaves, throughout SE Asia but did nothing to bring that to light. It turns out that the apology for BLOOD OATH by the former Japanese accused in 1991 was seen on NHK by the 'comfort women' who were about to start organising their campaign and this gave them a great boost to start their campaign in late 91.

So we can now see the enormous truth of what Don De Lillo wrote in his epic JFK novel LIBRA: 'This is what history consists of. History is the sum total of all the things they aren't telling us'.

(Special thanks to Brian A. Williams, March, 2001)

Bryan Brown, Jason Donovan (rear), John Polson, Deborah Unger

On to Blood Oath In Print


From Urban Cinefile:

DVD review from

DVD review from

The National Screen and Sound Archive

Blood Oath special screening at

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