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City of Life and Death: A Movie Review by Douglas Brough

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  • Douglas Brough
      City of Life and Death China Film Group Corp; Stella Mega Films Ltd; Jiang Su Broadcasting Corp; www.cityoflifeanddeath.co.uk Reviewed by Douglas Brough For
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 8, 2011
      City of Life and Death
      China Film Group Corp; Stella Mega Films Ltd; Jiang Su Broadcasting Corp;
      Reviewed by Douglas Brough
      For 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.
      But 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.
      City 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
      “Tied, bound and bleeding, locked in a building and burnt, murdered in a field with automatic gunfire or buried alive”
      This is murder in its most horrific state
      “I didn’t mean to”
      Stated 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 happen.
      Some 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.
      The 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.
      Rabe 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.
      The 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.
      Herr 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.
      A 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.
      Are 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 legacy?
      Copyright 2011 Douglas Brough All Rights Reserved
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