Cinema review: Nanking (2007)

The HBO documentary Nanking was made in the honor of historian Iris Chang who wrote a ground breaking history of the atrocity, see my book report. As is the usual case, a book is better because it can tell more of the story. In fact, this film was pretty faithful to the history but it only told half the story, the bad part. It didn't explain the circumstances of the city's liberation. If one were clueless, but then why would they watch this depressing movie, one might think the city was still occupied by the Japanese, and men were still on the prowl for women to rape or men to practice wielding their bayonets on. I was disappointed in not even some afterword in text on the screen providing the date of liberation and by which country's armies, US, USSR and UK.

The half of the story it did tell, was told well and in an artistic manner. Instead of typical voice overs, reading journals, letters, and news clips, actors were filmed in period dress speaking the lines, as if the witnesses were gathered for a review and catharsis of the atrocities they witnessed. The story was haunted though, in a way frequently noted at GetReligion. Most of the Europeans and Americans involved in the defense of 200,000 refugees were there for religious reasons, very strong religious reasons. A chapel did provide scenery and God was mentioned, but usually in the quotes of anguish and frustration with the overwhelming evil. Imagine if Billy Graham's film division, World Wide Pictures, filmed this. The viewer would here much more about why these people decided to risk their own lives. A really good movie, one without ghosts, would tread somewhere between these theoretical poles.

The movie is a good introduction to the horrors committed by the Japanese. In order to dull the deniers, one who showed up to comment on the Nanking book report, interviews were filmed with retired Japanese soldiers. One even laughed as he discussed finding and raping women. Another discussed lining up the city's men to gun down then running out of oil to burn all the bodies. The viewer will learn the wickedness of Japan in Nanking. But the viewer misses the good half of the story. The city's liberation. The rescue of 200,000 people in a 2 square mile area protected by internationals on the verge of starvation. The rescue came just in time. So watch this but then read Iris Chang's book, The Rape of Nanking.


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