City of Life and Death
China Film Group Corp; Stella Mega
Films Ltd; Jiang Su Broadcasting Corp;
Reviewed by Douglas Brough
someone so interested in the European theatre of war, genocide and war crimes,
and all things Germanic, it may at first seem strange to review a movie concerning
the city of Nanking, the former capital of the Republic of China during the
Second Sino-Japanese War: It’s hardly the centre of my historical interest but
there is a point to be made here and it is a point that goes much further than
what has become known as the “Rape of Nanking”: it is a point that travels from
China to Europe and divulges the stereotypical and sometimes erroneous
misconceptions of 20th century propaganda; it is a point which
challenges the theory that de-nazification must occur in order to become
compassionate, democratic and a member of a civilized society.
what is this point, what is it that encompasses the Second Sino-Japanese War
with World War II and the socio-cultural destruction of the German people. It
is John Rabe, the Nazi leader in the city of Nanking during the 1930’s. To
those who are happy to accuse and stereotype what better place for a Nazi – mass
murder, destruction, rape, pillage, but this is not the case: John Rabe acted
in a manner deserving of the title hero, he acted in a manner that surpasses
every expectation of not a Nazi but of a compassionate, and brave, individual
who had no greater love than this, that he laid down his life for his friends.
of Life and Death, from the outset is a cinematic masterpiece as it tells not
only the story of John Rabe, who is accredited with saving the lives of some
300,000 Chinese from slaughter, but of the “Rape of Nanking” itself. The
filming is grippingly presented to such a point that one can’t help but shed a
tear as the attention to detail drives the horrors home. Images of civilians
and bleeding, locked in a building and burnt, murdered in a field with
automatic gunfire or buried alive”
is murder in its most horrific state
“I didn’t mean
one soldier but this makes me wonder how he didn’t mean to put his finger on
the trigger and physically pull it. It is perhaps no surprise to suggest that war
crimes trials seem to have evaded the majority of those involved as the Rape of
Nanking has become a political pawn which, in certain cases, just did not
may say that it is easy to write about because all it is about is killing each
other but there is far more to death than death alone as this film with its
incredible attention to detail demonstrates. This film is told through the eyes
of several figures including a conscience stricken Japanese soldier, John Rabe
who was a Nazi businessman who would ultimately save several thousand of
Chinese lives – thousands of the enemy’s lives, and a child whose eye sees the
events so innocently yet full of brutality beyond a child’s comprehension.
sick and wounded in hospital murdered in cold blood but Rabe used his influence
to protect as many as possible. A City of Life and Death portrays the
Protection zone as a brilliant attempt at humanity by one man, but humanity had
its price. Women had to be hande over to entertain Japanese troops: In exchange
food and clothes were given to ensure the women and children made it through
the harsh winter.
had saved hundreds of thousands of lives by shoving the Swastika under the
noses of the Japanese soldiers: indeed he had a Swastika hanging from his
house, seen as the safest place in Nanking.
UK version of A City of Life and Death was subtitled but this didn’t distract
from the emotion of the film. It is quite easy to understand the emotion and
fear as he was ordered to return to Germany, his activities seen as damaging
the relationship between Germany and Japan – not everybody approved of his use
of the swastika to save lives which were most notably enemy lives.
John Rabe, the Nazi businessman and living Buddha of Nanking knelt and bowed
his head in sorrow before he left – he knew he was leaving a great number of
Chinese civilians to their death.
City of Life and Death is the story of the “Rape of Nanking” it is a story of a
great war crime somewhat unknown in the West – it is a film that bleeds
emotion, that bleeds as do the victims of the Rape of Nanking: Its almost as
though the viewer is there on the streets of Nanking.
you brave enough to be on the streets of A City of Life and Death, are you
prepared to applaud the Good Nazi and learn the lessons he has left us in his
2011 Douglas Brough All Rights Reserved