The espionage thriller starred Florence Marly and Robert Peyton in lead roles while Tetsu Nakamura played the antagonist. Katsuhiko Haida, Reiko Otani, Tatsuo Saitō and Heihachirô Ôkawa played supporting characters. Real life geisha Ichimaru appeared in a song sequence. The plot revolved around an American Intelligence agent (Peyton) sent to Japan to track down a suspected communist who was previously his college-mate (Haida).
Principal photography commenced on July 21, 1950 in Japan and completed in 36 days; making it Hollywood's first feature film to be shot entirely in Japan. RKO Pictures distributed the film in the US. Upon release the film received mixed reviews from critics who found the story unconvincing, though they appreciated the scenic settings. It turned out to be a commercial failure too.
U.S. intelligence agent Jim Carter is sent to Japan as a National Weekly Indicator journalist to find Taro Matsudo who is helping the Communists there. Matsudo happens to be Carter's college friend. In his hotel, Carter meets Steffi Novak, a mysterious woman who speaks six languages and wishes to accompany him. Together they are taken to a bar by Joe, an undercover agent posing as a taxi driver. Carter tries to approach Taro but he does not want to meet Jim. Back at his hotel, Jim receives a telegram informing him to reach Enoshima island. Here he meets Taro who refuses to divulge any information about his commander. He meets Taro's father Matsudo, a government official, who tells him that Matsudo aspired to be a kamikaze pilot but when Japan surrendered during World War II he sided with the Communists. When Jim returns to his hotel room, he is beaten by a group of Japanese men who tell him to stay away from Taro.
Meanwhile, Steffi meets Oyama who promises her that in return for spying on Carter she would be able to meet her sister in North Korea. Unknown to Steffi her sister is dead. She takes Cater to meet Oyama at an enkai party at an Atami resort. Somehow, Carter learns that the food offered to him is poisoned. He is forced to eat it and heads back to the hotel and survives. Next, he goes to Tokyo's Takarazuka Theater where he meets Taro's lover Namiko. Here he gains a lot of information about Taro. After he leaves, Namiko is kidnapped and thrown from a moving car. She is hospitalized. Once Taro learns of the incident he rushes to meet her but refuses to believe that his organization had any involvement with the accident. After having gained evidences of Steffi spying on him, Carter arrests Steffi. When she tells him that she was doing this to meet her sister, Carter informs her that her sister was murdered at Oyama's orders. Steffi vows revenge against Oyama and resolves to help Carter.
Oyama intends to provoke a railroad strike in order to halt the war efforts. Matsudo and Taro meet at railway tracks, where both of them give speeches to the workers. In a short period of time the gathering turns into a brawl and several people, including Matsudo are badly injured. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department intervenes to restore peace. Taro decides to meet Namiko at the hospital but finds her dead. Oyama's henchmen take him to his office and when Taro learns of Oyama's plan to kill Carter, Steffi and Matsudo by a time bomb explosion, he jumps out of the window to draw them away from the bench under which the bomb is placed. Carter reaches Oyama's place with his associates and the police. Seeing no option left, Oyama confesses his crimes, angering his right-hand man who stabs him for disloyalty towards their organization. The man is shot and Oyama dies. After completing his mission Carter returns to the United States, with Steffi and Matsudo seeing him off.
Development and casting
George Paul Breakston, who had appeared in It Happened One Night (1934) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940) as a child actor, worked in the Signal Corps during the World War II and also visited Tokyo. After the war ended, Breakston shifted his focus towards films and directed Urubu: The Story of Vulture People (1948) and Jungle Stampede (1950). During this time, he drafted Tokyo File 212 and met Hollywood studio executives and producers with the script. Screenwriters Dorrell and Stewart McGowan agreed to back the production and for this venture Breakston–McGowan Productions, Inc. was established. They also provided screenplay. Lawyer Melvin Belli invested $10,000 in the project and was credited as executive producer. Irene Breakston and C. Ray Stahl were assistant and associate producers respectively. Herman Schopp was the cinematographer. Albert Glasser provided the music score. In the initial draft, two American intelligence agents were involved. The working title was Danger City. The production company joined hands with Suzuki Ikuzo's Tonichi Enterprises Company. The latter agreed to provide half of the budget and Japanese actors and crew members in return for half of the earnings in both the Japan and the United States.
It was approved by Douglas MacArthur in May 1950 with Lloyd Nolan as the male lead. Leif Erickson left 20th-Fox's Half Angel for the project. Initially, veteran actor Sessue Hayakawa was to play the antagonist. This happened to be Robert Peyton's first starring role and Florence Marly under contract with Allied Artists was borrowed for the film. Marly chose this film instead of another big budget Mexican one. The cast also included Tatsuo Saitō, Suisei Matsui, Tetsu Nakamura, Katsuhiko Haida and Reiko Otani. Reiko was cast after an audition. It was the only film approved by MacArthur for filming in Japan. Intelligence files provided by him were researched for the film. MacArthur also provided interpreters and several intelligence officers acted in the film. Real military generals and detectives were cast for the roles. Tokyo File 212 was the film debut of geisha Ichimaru. Katsuhiko was initially uncomfortable with his kiss scene with Marley. Marley said of Katsuhiko that "[He] could give the Clark Gables and Tyrone Powers a run for their money." She happened to be first American actress to visit Japan in 15 years. 40 Kamikaze pilots were also included in the cast.
American actors and crew members reached Japan on July 21, 1950. Principal photography was completed in 36 days and the final version was prepared in 2 months. It was Hollywood's first feature film to be shot entirely in Japan. A communist group wished to appeal to Marly, who was born in Czechoslovakia, not to act in the film. She was told about it only after the crew had returned to the US after completing the principal photography. While filming was being done in front of a Soviet staff building a Japanese scolded the production team. At the Ohuzumi studio in Tokyo, 26 sets were constructed. The 100 feet long and 70 feet wide ballroom set was built in $160. For the final scene where a bomb explodes, the Japanese used 15 black-powdered bombs instead of the pre-planned 6. The explosion caused Dorrel McGowan to fall on his back and alarmed the city's air patrol and the military police, fire wagons along with riot squads rushed to the shooting location. A few crew member including Marly were hurt in the explosion. The scene where Taro leaps from a window was shot by two cameramen and he was pushed from the window. For a street celebration scene shot in Enoshima, the Japanese extras drank a lot of sake to make the scene authentic. The rail strike scene took inspiration from a similar strike that occurred in 1949. 8 trains were used for the scene. 200 engineers were also provided for the same scene. The communists did not want its filming to occur and their threats made the Japanese cast and crew members unwilling to work unless more security was provided.
The production team had access to places where only military cars and trucks were allowed. On location shooting in Japan reduced the production costs significantly and the film was completed in approximately US $700,000, and as Dorrel McGowan stated it would have cost millions of dollars if shot in US. During her visit, Marly also entertained American soldiers stationed there. She gave instructions in kissing to five Japanese actors, including Toru Abe and Teiji Takahashi, at Gajoen hotel in Meguro during a press conference. This incident did not go down well with some sections of the Japanese who loathed Abe for being kissed by a foreigner and even accused him of bringing shame to the nation. After returning from Japan, Dorell McGowan declared that the Japanese were the greatest actors in the world. He also praised the set building techniques employed by the Japanese. One scene was shot at Tokyo's Imperial Theater. During a railroad brawl scene several actors were hurt and they bled.
Due to the film's content RKO executives were eager to release it soon. The Japanese and US premieres were scheduled for December 15, 1950 and May 2, 1951 respectively. Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the Japanese emperor Hirohito were invited to attend the former event at Tokyo's Ernie Pyle theatre. However it opened in Japan on January 24, 1951 and released in the United States on May 5. Geisha girls were brought from Japan to perform at the film's opening in major US cities. The Catholic organisation National Legion of Decency considered the film morally objectionable in part and gave it a B rating.
The New York daily Plattsburgh Press-Republican predicted that the film would be an outright purchase. Prominent films it was double billed with included Sealed Cargo and Cyclone Fury. It was released on TV on May 13, 1959. The Danish and Portuguese titles for the film were Mysteriet i Tokio and Tóquio, Intriga Oriental respectively. It was released in Sweden on September 8, 1952 as Attentat i Tokyo. The fact that it was filmed in Japan was well publicized. Toyoko and Toei handled publicity in Japan.
Albert Glasser provided the music score.
In addition to the above titles "Oyedo Boogie" by Yasuo Shimizu & Shizuo Yoshikawa was also included.
Reviewer's criticized the film's plot but praised the scenic settings. Reviewer from Monthly Film Bulletin found the Japanese settings "interesting", but called the story confusing and felt that the depiction of communist activities was childishly silly. Brog in Variety opined that Marly had fulfilled her role and Peyton's acting was okay. He praised the "Oyedo Boogie" song sequence and the Japanese background. He stated that despite having good "exploitation values", the story had turned out be at "pulp fiction level". The Christian Science Monitor's reviewer opined that the work was "more or less routine entertainment" but praised Marly's "expert job" and the Japanese settings. However, he felt that the dialogues in Japanese language were a little confusing and Peyton's performance was not worth arousing sympathy for its "professional detachment" and "unemotional determination". The Washington Post's critic Richard L. Coe termed the film a "low-level, pulp magazine job" and a "less worthy buck-catcher" but felt that it had advantage of realistic settings. He also criticized the approval note before the film and advised the government departments to be more careful while approving them. A. H. Weiler of The New York Times questioned why "the long trip" to Japan was made for the "awkward melodrama". He called the story "comic-strip level" fiction, Peyton's performance "[stony]", criticized the "muscular and uninspired" acting and dialogues. He concluded his review by stating that the film was "one "file" that should never have been plucked from the archives." John L. Scott wrote in Los Angeles Times that the "production moves slowly and abrupt cutting doesn't help the matter much" and termed the picture a "routine spy business".
For Eiga no tomo's editor Nagaharu Yodogawa who called it a "failure", viewing the feature was a "truly painful" experience. Critic Kodama Kazuo noted in his book that the film's "reputation [was] terribly bad". Tasmanian daily Examiner called the film an "explosive melodrama". The Newcastle Sun called it a "rather unusual film", its background atmosphere "excellent" and praised Marly's performance. However, the reviewer felt that her character was "made-up a little too heavily". James King wrote in his book Under Foreign Eyes that Korea and Communist menace was underscored and the Japanese characters were portrayed as having conflicting emotions with the Western ones. He further said that the film created a notion that Japanese had to be rescued from themselves and Oyama represents the Japanese who think of foreigners as enemies. Jeanette Roan felt that the storyline was "well suited to the ideological goals of the reconstruction" but location shooting was unnecessary. Robert J. Lentz wrote in the book Korean War Filmography that Marly had given the film’s "best performance" and made the feature worth watching. He was surprised that a few more shots of "scenic Tokyo" had not been included and called the Communist bar scene "unintentionally comic". Lentz was critical of the script, likened Peyton’s voice to that of a TV series actor and rated the film, best of the three produced by Breakston. 42–58% turnout was reported during the first week of the film's screening in Tokyo and it was a commercial failure. In 2004, it was released on DVD by Alpha Video.