City of Life and Death
An excellent film telling an appalling story - Mick Jordan
There are many horror stories of appalling carnage and slaughter committed during World War 2 but no matter how many are heard every new account is another cause for shock and outrage. And while the events portrayed in this film took place in the Cino-Japanese war of 1937 it could all be grouped together in the same terrible mindset. “The Rape of Nanking” took place over just six weeks when Japanese forces conquered and occupied the then Chinese capital. What followed next was one of the most horrific series of war-crimes in history as hundreds of thousands of civilians were ever more brutally slaughtered and tens of thousands of women and children were raped –in just six weeks. “City of Life and Death” presents its story as one of slowly increasing brutality. When the soldiers first arrive they are horrified when they accidentally kill a small family hiding in a closet by the time they leave they are casually shooting passersby in the head. Throughout it all one Japanese soldier Sergeant Kadokawa (Hideo Nakaizumi) is horrified by what is happening and by his powerlessness to do anything about it. But this powerlessness is only due to the fact that he has to follow orders and not defy the status quo and so the film highlights once more how so many ordinary people can get caught up in a groundswell of cruelty and commit the most appalling atrocities. He tries constantly to convince himself that this is normal, this is appropriate – when one senior officer shoots dead a young girl who has lost her mind after being serially raped he congratulates the officer on putting her out of her pain. But soon even he becomes smothered by the escalating evil and can take no more of it. The violence never lets up and neither does the film. There is not so much a plot here as a long litany of increasingly savage brutalities. There is very little music throughout the film and what there is consists entirely of intimidating drums assaulting the ears as dramatically as the visuals attack the eyes. There is no pleasure to be got from this film, no light relief and no happy ending but it is compelling and utterly absorbing. This is something you feel afterward you needed to see – and needed to know.
Review published on the 15 April 2010 19:13
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