“Nanjing! Nanjing!“ (aka “City of Life and Death“) is a new movie by Chinese director Lu Chuan about the Nanjing Massacre that occurred when Japanese forces overran the then-capital of China in World War II. If you’re a China basher, you might say it is “yet another” movie about the Nanjing Massacre, evidencing how the Chinese simply refuse to let go of their persistent preoccupation with how the Japanese devils once humiliated their great nation and deeply scarred their people. Either way, it is a movie I strongly recommend you watch, even if it is the edited and cut version being shown in China.
Preceding the movie’s opening, many jaded expats and foreigners were quick to bemoan the possibility of “yet another” propaganda piece timed to whip up nationalist indignation and fervor, ever so coincidentally timed for the 60th anniversary of Communist China. Suggestions that China make a film about the atrocities it committed on itself rained from the peanut gallery. One recommendation: “Tiananmen! Tiananmen!” Zing, right?
What about the Chinese themselves? What did they think? chinaSMACK, as usual, translated some mainland Chinese netizen comments, and the WSJ’s China Journal also translated uh…five. Notable were the nationalistic comments of those who were rather indignant that the movie dared to have a sympathetic Japanese character in “Nanjing! Nanjing”, as if the existence of a single conflicted and remorseful human on the Japanese side amounts to making excuses for the Japanese:
Japan still has not come out to apologize, yet we Chinese have already explained come out expressing our guilt for making this film, what kind of bullshit logic is that! In order to achieve doing something different, they are joking around with historical facts. Listen to the reactions [to the film] of the only surviving comfort woman of the Nanjing Massacre, “At the time, the sights were much more terrifying than those shown in the movie, I have never met a Japanese person that has found their conscience like those in the movie.” Luchuan [the director], 300,000 Nanjing souls will not forgive you, you modern Chinese traitor, for covering up the Nanjing Massacre for the Japanese!
That bloody and tearful bitter history of the Chinese nation, as Chinese of a later generation, we must never forget nor should we forget. Speaking of forgiveness, some things cannot be forgiven. Compassion for the enemy is cruelty to ourselves.
I am extremely angry after watching the movie. It sees the war merely from the perspective of Japanese soldier–focusing on his personal experience and feelings about the massacre…It’s not a movie for patriotic education, but a Japanese movie shot by Chinese director… The Nanjing Massacre was not war, but a brutal crime against international law. So if the movie doesn’t disclose and denounce the crime in this light, I don’t think it’s appropriate from any other angle.
Heh, international law. That’s funny.
Also notable were the comments of those who seemed to be imploring their fellow Chinese to not be afraid of watching this movie and instead bravely face their painful history, you know, as if the Chinese as a society has been repressing this traumatic memory and not incessantly sprinkling reminders of it throughout the education system and popular media. Quite a few expats must’ve chocked on their disbelief, scoffing at the disingenuous notion that any Chinese actually fear facing the horrifying truth of how evil those evil Japanese devils really were when it seemed to them that they routinely relish slathering themselves in it.
Only by facing history can tragedy not be repeated. After so many years, how many people can clearly know the truth of what happened during the war against Japanese aggression?
Strongly ding this up. We Chinese have too strong imaginations, always taking everything and thinking about them in our own subjective ways, often overlooking the truth. We always want other people to face history, yet we ourselves instead are always and ceaselessly avoiding it. Those media should stop talking about Red Cliff all day and give this movie some hype. If this movie does not become China’s most popular/successful movie, then that would be our sorrow/tragedy.
I went to the premiere of the movie, and I think it’s indeed a great movie. If we avoid mentioning the topic simply because it’s painful, who will remember the disaster and learn from it?
Lu Chuan’s “Nanjing! Nanjing!” succeeds largely for the same reasons Feng Xiaogang’s 2007 “Assembly” succeeded: Focusing on the human stories. Both movies had riveting action sequences that were criticized as evidence of the films’ commercialization of historical subject matter to the detriment of, I dunno, teaching some obvious moral lesson about the evil Japanese to the masses. However, the bulk of both movies were about the personal trials and tribulations of its characters as they sought to fight for their country, survive, save those they cared for, or come to terms with the horrors they witnessed or carried out in the excesse of war. Of course, whereas “Assembly’ was mainly a narrative about a single soldier’s survivor guilt, “Nanjing! Nanjing!” is definitely as much about the gruesome barbarity as it was about the victims who suffered them. Accordingly, and in arguable contrast to “Assembly”, it includes scene after scene of the madness that enveloped these poor souls in Nanjing.
Despite the mainland version having cut out certain more graphic scenes, so as not to offend the fragile sensibilities of the innocent mainland audiences, what I saw was plenty to ensure that I will never forget just how many inhuman ways of abuse and death were employed by the Japanese imperial army during their rampage across China. It isn’t going to make me suddenly eschew all common sense and vociferously hate all modern Japanese for the ills of their ancestors, but I will forever emotionally remember — for lack of a better expression — just how fucked up people can be given the right circumstances.
However, these scenes of brutality, however shocking or illuminating they might be, are not going to connect “Nanjing! Nanjing!” to its audience. Rather, it will be the numerous scenes of complete and utter humanity that offers audiences a precious opportunity to better understand both others, themselves, and what we’re all capable of. These include the scenes of cowardice and bravery, defiance and resignation, self-preservation and self-sacrifice. They include the supplication for survival of a portly Shanghai husband and father, the helplessness of a compassionate German forced to give up his charges, and yes, the small things a bewildered Japanese soldier does or doesn’t do. It is this movie’s ability to give those viewers with minds and hearts open enough the opportunity to identify with each of these characters and the scope of gritty emotions they represent that makes “Nanjing! Nanjing!” a Chinese movie worthy of being compared to a spiritual predecessor, “Schindler’s List.”
For the foreigners, do not dismiss “Nanjing! Nanjing!” as a Chinese propaganda film. For the Chinese hyper-nationalists, do not denounce it for not being one. Set aside your preconceived biases and watch the film for what it was meant to be: A tale of the humanity found amongst inhumanity. Go watch it.
In case you’re wondering, my MAN-card did indeed check itself out for most of the movie. I got pretty chocked up even from the early battle scenes, and was shamelessly wiping streams of tears off my face throughout 3/4ths of the film. “Assembly” one-upped “Nanjing! Nanjing!” in the tear-jerk department by having me outright bawling for the second half of the movie. Yeah…what can I say? I’ve got a big heart of gold.
So, what did YOU think of the movie, “Nanjing! Nanjing!”?