The morning after their arrival in Tokyo, Syd excitedly came into Charlie’s room and told him that his “bags had been searched and all of his papers disturbed.” Charlie accused him of being overly suspicious but there had been other strange occurrences as well, namely the behavior of Charlie’s secretary Toraichi Kono. During their drive to the hotel the evening before, their car stopped in front of the Emperor’s Palace. Kono looked around nervously and then asked Charlie to get out and bow. “Is this customary?” Charlie asked. “Yes,” Kono replied. “You don’t have to bow, just step out of the car.” Charlie did what he asked but thought the request was strange since there was no one around and if it were customary the public would have known and a crowd would have been there, if only a small one.1
After the incident with Sydney’s luggage, a government agent was assigned to look after them. Sydney insisted that they were being watched and felt that Kono was hiding something. Charlie had to admit that his secretary was looking “more worried and harassed every hour.”2
Meanwhile, Charlie’s plans for his first day in Tokyo were to attend a sumo match with Ken Inukai, the son of the Prime Minister, Tsuyoshi Inukai. The following day, Chaplin was to meet and have dinner with the Prime Minister.
As they entered the stadium, Charlie was greeted with a tremendous ovation. Sumo wrestling “is amusing to watch,” wrote Charlie, “and if you don’t understand the technique, the whole procedure looks comic. Nevertheless the effect is hypnotic and thrilling.”3
|Syd, Charlie, and Kono pose with sumo wrestlers.|
|Charlie and Syd intently watch the wrestling matches.|
Unbeknownst to the crowd, as well as Chaplin and his entourage, something terrible had happened earlier that day:
As we were leaving a courier rushed into our box and told us the awful news–that the prime minister, Mr. Tsuyoshi Inukai had been assassinated in his home. This was a dreadful shock to everyone and put a damper on the whole nation.
The Prime Minister’s son told us later that were were responsible for saving his life because the tragedy occurred while he was at the wrestling arena making arrangements for our tickets. Had he been home, the assassins would have murdered him with his father. 4
Inukai, one of Japan’s foremost liberals, had only been in office since December 1931.
Chaplin describes the murder in “A Comedian Sees The World”:
The tragedy is well-known–how the murderers, dressed as soldiers, shot and killed several guards, then broke into the prime minister’s sitting room and with the points of their guns confronted the old gentleman and his family; how he led them to another room, remarking that if they intended to kill him to spare his wife and children the scene of such violence. The heroic courage of the Prime Minister was worthy of his exalted position. Not one word passed the assassins’ lips as they were led by the august gentlemen down a long corridor into the little room where he calmly told them to state their grievances. Without a word, however, these murderers cruelly poured fire into their defenseless victim and left.
Chaplin accompanied Ken Inukai back to his home and saw the room in which a couple of hours before his father had been murdered. “The stain of a large pool of blood was still wet on the matting. A battery of cameramen and reporters were there, but they had the decency not to take photographs. They nevertheless prevailed upon me to make a statement. I could only say that it was a shocking tragedy for the family and for the country.” 5
|The prime minister , second from left, and his family, January 1932.
Ken Inukai is standing, his wife is to his right, their children are seated with
the premier and his wife, far left.
The killers were members of a paramilitary, right-wing society called the “Black Dragon” and it was they, Chaplin believed, who had insisted that he bow to the emperor’s palace. It was discovered later that Chaplin was also part of their original assassination plot.
At the assassins’ 1933 trial, Lieutenant Seishi Koga, the leader, testified that there were plans to bomb the Prime Minister’s residence during a reception for Chaplin, the reception was cancelled however. The assassins hoped that the death of Chaplin would throw Japan and the U.S. into war “which was needed to rehabilitate the Japanese spirit.” 6
Thirty years later in his autobiography, Chaplin wrote: “I can imagine the assassins having carried out their plan, then discovering that I was not an American but an Englishman—’Oh, so sorry!’”
Coming up in the next installment of WTR: Chaplin attends a kabuki performance.
1Chaplin, My Autobiography, 1964
3Chaplin, “A Comedian Sees The World, Part V,” 1934
5Chaplin, My Autobiography
6Washington Post, July 26, 1933
Gerith Von Ulm, Charlie Chaplin: King Of Tragedy, 1940