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Charlie Chaplin was nearly assassinated in Japan in 1932

Domagoj Valjak

Charlie Chaplin was the pioneer of the 20th century comedy, whose 75-year career spanned from the era of the silent film all the way to the 1950’s and his seminal film A King in New York.

Chaplin’s off-screen life was almost as turbulent as his on-screen adventures, and at one point during the 1930’s he escaped death in Japan.

Charlie Chaplin’s publicity photo from 1920

Charlie Chaplin’s publicity photo from 1920

In February 1931 a treaty was signed between the United Kingdom, the Empire of Japan, France, Italy and the United States. The treaty was named The Treaty for the Limitation and Reduction of Naval Armament, and was designed to limit the naval military forces of the countries that signed it, because these countries were involved in a naval arms race during the World War I.

Portrait of Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi (犬養毅, 1855 – 1932)

Portrait of Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi (犬養毅, 1855 – 1932)

Japan adhered to the rules of the treaty, but some ultra nationalistic members of the Japanese navy were not satisfied with the new rules. They thought that the treaty weakened the democracy and the military power of the Empire of Japan, and they planned on assassinating the Japanese Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi. The assassination of the Prime Minister would serve as a coup d’etat, after which the conspirators would be able to replace the government with a military rule.

The conspirators were aided by the civilian members of the nationalist party “League of Blood”. They planned on storming the Prime Minister’s residence and killing him and his 21-old son. At that time, Charlie Chaplin was visiting Japan, and the Prime Minister decided to organize a reception for Chaplin in his own home. Conspirators saw this as an opportunity to kill Chaplin, which they thought would lead to a war between the Empire of Japan and the United States.

Osaka newspaper Mainichi Shimbun describing the May 15th incident and assassination of Prime Minister Inukai

Osaka newspaper Mainichi Shimbun describing the May 15th incident and assassination of Prime Minister Inukai

On May 15th, 1932, the conspirators stormed the Prime Minister’s residence and shot him. However, the reception for Chaplin was postponed at the last moment because the Prime Minister’s son took Chaplin to watch a sumo match.

League of Blood defendants awaiting trial

League of Blood defendants awaiting trial

Chaplin nearly escaped certain death, because as many as eleven ruthless assassins stormed the Prime Minister’s residence. Another group of conspirators threw hand grenades at several buildings in Tokyo, including the headquarters of the Mitsubishi Bank.

The conspirators who killed the Prime Minister were caught and court-martialed, but they received extremely lenient sentences because the court received a petition for their release that contained 350 thousand signatures, all signed in blood.

Charlie Chaplin as the Tramp in 1915, cinema’s “most universal icon”

Charlie Chaplin as the Tramp in 1915, cinema’s “most universal icon”

Charlie Chaplin was seen at the time as a comical persona who sported funky mustache and a cylinder, but his visit to Japan was anything but comical.

Read another story from us: Charlie Chaplin allegedly entered a Chaplin look-alike contest and lost

He nearly escaped death and witnessed historical events that led to the rise of Japanese militarism.