Tokyo Joe (1949): Heisler’s Film Noir, Starring Humphrey Bogart, Florence Marly, Sessue Hayakawa

Stuart Heisler directed Tokyo Joe, a crime film noir, starring Humphrey Bogart, Alexander Knox, Florence Marly, and Sessue Hayakawa.

Grade: C+ (** out of *****)

Tokyo Joe
Tokyo Joe - 1949 - poster.png

1949 film poster

This was Heisler’s first of two features with Bogart; the other, Chain Lightning, was released in 1950.

After World War II, ex-Colonel Joe Barrett (Bogart) returns to Tokyo to see if anything had been left of his pre-war bar and gambling joint (“Tokyo Joe’s”) after the bombing. Amazingly, it is more or less intact, and run by his old friend Ito.

Joe is shocked to learn from Ito that his wife Trina is still alive. She has divorced Joe and is married to Mark Landis, a lawyer working in the U.S. occupation of Japan.

Joe’s daughter, Anya, who’s 7, was born when Trina was in internment camp after Joe’s departure from Japan, before Pearl Harbor.

Detailed Plot:

In order to stay in Japan after his visitor’s permit expires in 60 days, Joe Barrett wants to set up an airline freight franchise, but he needs financial backing.

Through Ito, Joe meets Baron Kimura, former head of the Japanese secret police. Kimura offers to finance a small airline business that will carry frozen frogs for export to North and South America, even though Joe believes Kimura is going to use the airline as a front, carrying penicillin, saccharine, and pearls. But as the army hesitates in giving Joe permission to open the business, Kimura shows him proof from the Japanese secret police files that Trina worked broadcasting propaganda for the Japanese, a treasonable offense since she was a naturalized American citizen married to an American citizen.

When Joe confronts Trina with this evidence, she explains that she made the broadcasts only to protect her newborn baby whom the Japanese took away from her when she was in Oyama prison camp.

She reveals that she was pregnant when Joe deserted her, and that Anya is his daughter. Joe wants to back out of the airline deal, but Kimura demands that he go through with it. To save Trina, Joe accepts Kimura’s proposal and convinces Mark Landis to help him start the airline business before his visitor’s permit expires.

Joe then discovers through American occupation authorities that Kimura actually intends to smuggle in fugitive war criminals-former senior officers of the Imperial Japanese Army and the leader of the Black Dragon Society, and to start a secret anti-American movement.

The authorities plan to apprehend them when they land at Haneda Airfield. But Kimura finds out that Joe had met with the Americans, and before Joe flies to Korea, Kimura informs him that Anya has been kidnapped and will be freed only when the Japanese are delivered. Joe picks up his passengers and is about to land them at the Army-designated airfield when the Japanese hijack the plane and land at different airstrip in Okuma. The US Army intercepts the Japanese, as they had every airstrip on Honshu covered.

Back at the bar, Joe finds out from mortally wounded Ito that Anya is being held in the basement of an old hotel. Joe enters the dark cavern and finds Anya, but he is shot by Kimura as he carries Anya to safety.

In the end, the American soldiers kill Kimura, and Joe, who’s seriously wounded, is carried out on a stretcher.

The film was Sessue Hayakawa’s first postwar project, and it revitalized his career. From 1937 to 1949, Hayakawa had been in France as an actor, and then was caught up in the German occupation, living as an artist, selling watercolors.

After joining the French underground, he aided Allied flyers during the war. When Humphrey Bogart’s production company tracked him down to offer him a role in Tokyo Joe, the American Consulate investigated Hayakawa’s activities during the war before issuing a work permit.

Principal filming for Tokyo Joe took place on the Columbia studio lot. A second unit was dispatched by Columbia to Tokyo to do exterior shots; it was the first company allowed to film in postwar Japan.

The lockheed Hudson bomber converted into cargo hauling is featured with both interiors, and aerial sequences revolving around the aircraft.

The film fared well with the public, probably as a result of the fact that the subject of postwar Japan was timely and intriguing.

Some viewers believed that the film was semi-documentary due to the extensive use of footage shot in Japan, though the reviewers were more critical.

Artistically speaking, it’s one of Bogart’s weaker films.


Humphrey Bogart as Joseph ‘Joe’ Barrett
Alexander Knox as Mark Landis
Florence Marly as Trina Pechinkov Landis
Sessue Hayakawa as Baron Kimura
Jerome Courtland as Danny
Gordon Jones as Idaho
Teru Shimada as Ito
Hideo Mori as Kanda
Charles Meredith as General Ireton
Rhys Williams as Colonel Dahlgren
Lora Lee Michel as Anya, Trina’s daughter


Kyoko Kamo as Nani-San
Gene Gondo as Kamikaze
Harold Goodwin as Major J.F.X. Loomis
James Cardwell as Military Police Captain
Frank Kumagai as Truck Driver
Tetsu Komai as Lt. Gen. “The Butcher” Takenobu
Otto Han as Hara
Yosan Tsuruta as Goro
Hugh Beaumont as Provost Marshal Major

Photo: Florence Marly and Bogart in ad for Tokyo Joe


Directed by Stuart Heisler
Produced by Robert Lord
Written by Steve Fisher, Walter Doniger
Screenplay by Cyril Hume, Bertram Millhauser
Music by George Antheil
Cinematography: Charles Lawton Jr.
Edited by Viola Lawrence
Distributed by Columbia
Release date: October 26, 1949
Running time: 89 minutes


TCM showed this movie on April 26, 2020.