1937, facing an advancing Japanese army, the Chinese government withdrew from the then capital Nanking (now Nanjing). Although some in Japan still dispute the facts, the ensuing occupation saw the Japanese military shooting many thousands of Chinese soldiers and civilians, and committing rape on a massive scale. Filmed in black-and-white on huge sets, Lu Chuan’s dramatised account lacks nothing in vividness, elaborating the scale of the atrocities through witnesses on both sides. With a key role for a Japanese soldier disgusted by the carnage, the film discerns the humanity of patriots and enemy alike, though the emphasis is understandably on the heroic sacrifices of the Chinese. Even if the characterisation is a shade too generic, and it’s often hard to respond to savagery on this magnitude, the very fact that these events are being brought to light with such care makes this a significant film.
Cast and crew