Sandakan No. 8

Sandakan No. 8 (サンダカン八番娼館 望郷, Sandakan hachiban shōkan: Bōkyō, aka Sandakan 8 and Brothel 8) is a 1974 Japanese film directed by Kei Kumai. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Sandakan No. 8
A chinese language version poster of the film
Directed byKei Kumai
Written byKei Kumai
Sakae Hirozawa
Tomoko Yamazaki (Story)
StarringKinuyo Tanaka
Yoko Takashi
Komaki Kurihara
CinematographyMitsuji Kaneo
Haiyūza Eiga
Release date
  • November 2, 1974 (1974-11-02)
Running time
121 minutes


A young female journalist Keiko Mitani (Komaki Kurihara) is researching an article on the history of Japanese women who were forced to work as prostitutes in Asian brothels during the early 20th century. She locates Osaki (Kinuyo Tanaka), an elderly woman who lives with a number of cats in a shack in a remote village. Osaki agrees to tell her life story, and the film goes into flashback to the early 1920s. A young Osaki (Yoko Takashi) is sold by her poverty-stricken family into indentured servitude as a maid in Sandakan, British North Borneo (today’s Sabah, Malaysia) at what she believes to be a hotel. At parting, Osaki's distraught and tragic mother gives her a kimono that she has woven by hand over the night before her daughter's departure. The kimono will be Osaki's most treasured possession forever. The establishment is actually a brothel called Sandakan No. 8. Osaki, who is sold as a young girl, works for two years as a maid, but is forced by the brothel’s owners to become a prostitute. Osaki stays at Sandakan 8 until World War II, and in that period she never experiences genuine affection outside of a brief romance with a poor farmer who abandons her when he comes one evening to the brothel and sees the disheveled and exhausted Osaki after an onslaught of service to a battalion of Japanese sailors recently docked at the town. When Osaki returns to Japan, her brother and his wife, who have bought a house with the money she sent them, tell her that she has become an embarrassment.

Osaki returns to Sandakan. At the end of the war she marries a Japanese man, who then dies. On returning to Japan, because of her experiences at Sandakan No. 8 she is shunned and treated like a pariah, even by her son who lives a respectable life in a large city.


  • Komaki Kurihara - Keiko Mitani
  • Yoko Takahashi - Osaki as a young woman
  • Kinuyo Tanaka - Osaki Yamakawa, as an old woman
  • Takiko Mizunoe - Okiku
  • Eiko Mizuhara - Ofumi
  • Yoko Todo - Oyae
  • Yukiko Yanagawa - Otake
  • Yoko Nakagawa - Ohana
  • Masayo Umezawa - Yukiyo
  • Ken Tanaka - Hideo Takeuchi
  • Eitaro Ozawa - Tarozo
  • Tomoko Jinbo - Moto
  • Hideo Sunazuka - Yajima
  • Mitsuo Hamada - Yasukichi
  • Kaneko Iwasaki - Sato


Sandakan No. 8 was based on the 1972 book Sandakan Brothel No. 8: An Episode in the History of Lower-Class by Yamazaki Tomoko. The book focused on the "karayuki-san", the Japanese term for young women who were forced to work into prostitution in Pacific Rim countries and colonies during the early 20th century. The book created controversy in Japan, where the subject of the karayuki-san was not discussed in public or in scholarly examinations of Japanese history. Yamazaki’s book was a best-seller and won the Oya Soichi Prize for Non-Fiction Literature; she quickly followed up with a sequel, The Graves of Sandakan. Filmmaker Kei Kumai combined the two books into the screenplay for Sandakan No. 8.[1]

Awards and release

Sandakan No. 8 won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress for Kinuyo Tanaka in the 1975 Kinema Jumpo Awards. Tanaka won the Best Actress Award at the 25th Berlin International Film Festival,[2] while Kumai received a Best Director nomination at that festival.

Sandakan No. 8 was nominated for the 1975 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but it lost to another production directed by a Japanese filmmaker: Akira Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala, which was the Soviet Union entry for the Oscar competition.[3]

The film was not released in the U.S. until late 1976. Roger Ebert, in a review published in the Chicago Sun-Times, noted the film’s "material is sensitively handled...the movie is not explicit."[4] But Janet Maslin, in a review for The New York Times, called it a "film about prostitution, narrated from what is supposed to be a feminist point of view. However feminism, in this case, only means interjecting a particularly noxious form of man-hating where the pornographic touches ordinarily might be."[5]

To date, Sandakan No. 8 has not been commercially released in the U.S. on DVD.

See also


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