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Nanking (2007) - Movie Review

History Brought to Life--and to Light

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating


Nanking (2007) - Movie Review

Chinese citizens rounded up by Japanese soldiers in Nanking

Nanking elucidates a very dark moment in human history: the massacre of 200,000 people and rape of 20,000 women by Japanese soldiers who occupied that city during the Second World War.

It Must Not Happen Again

Nanking, shedding light on a Chinese holocaust that is little known in the West, shows us the very worst and best of human behavior--as brought out by war.

When the Japanese occupied China during World War II, soldiers randomly slaughtered 200,000 innocent men, women and children, raped 20,000 women and children and mutilated countless others. In Nanking, directors Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman present rarely seen archival footage that shows us exactly what was done--a young girl's arm is hacked off, for example--by the occupying soldiers. "We had nothing to do," says one soldier who was interviewed, "so we raped girls."

It is as shocking as you might imagine, as gruesome as horror film gore that's manufactured by CGI and special effects. But this archival footage was shot by an Episcopal priest, John Magee, and it is incontrovertibly real.

Hearing from Victims and Extraordinary Heroes

Mariel Hemingway in Nanking


We also meet and listen to the eyewitness accounts of survivors whom the film's producer, Ted Leonsis, and directors found still living in China. One women tells us that the repeated rape she suffered when she was a girl left her in need of wearing diapers throughout her adult life. Amazingly, she speaks without bitterness and expresses her constant hope that no body else will ever experience what she did.

These actual elements of the documentary are interspersed with dramatic readings of the letters, diaries and other documents written by John Magee and several other Westerners who could have left the city, but opted to remain in Nanking to help the Chinese people who were being brutalized.

Documentary Dramatization at Its Best

In stirring dramatic performances that would rarely be appropriate in a documentary film, Woody Harrelson as Dr. Bob Wilson, Mariel Hemingway as Minnie Vautrin and Jurgen Prochnow, acting in character, voice the noble thoughts and poetic words of heroic individuals who stood by their morals and acted upon their believes and who, thanks to this extraordinary film, will never be silenced.

Documentary filmmking and dramatization don't often work well together, but Nanking is an exception.

Nanking is one of fifteen documentaries shortlisted for consideration for the 2007 Oscar for Best Feature Length Documentary. The film has already been seen by more than two million people in China and about 100,000 in the U.S. If you can't find it playing at a theater near you, keep you eye out for the release of the DVD.

Nanking is profoundly moving. It's a must-see. Add it to your list.

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