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Nanking is a powerful reminder of the heartbreaking toll that war takes on the innocent, and a testament to the courage and conviction of a few individuals determined to act in the face of evil. The film tells the story of the Japanese invasion of Nanking, China in the early days of World War II and focuses on the efforts of a small group of unarmed Westerners who established a Safety Zone where over 200,000 Chinese found refuge. The events of the film are told through deeply moving interviews with Chinese survivors, archival footage, and chilling testimonies of Japanese soldiers, interwoven with staged readings of the Westerners letters and diaries as performed by Jurgen Prochnow, Woody Harrelson, Stephen Dorff, and Mariel Hemingway, among others.
The diaries and letters of Western observers, combined with the testimonies of still-living Chinese eyewitnesses, create an intimate and wrenchingly compelling depiction of the Japanese invasion of Nanking in 1937. Nanking focuses on the Safety Zone established by a bizarre combination of American missionaries and Nazi businessmen, a haven that saved the lives of over 200,000 Chinese too poor to flee the marauding army. The words of these missionaries and businessmen are read by a cast of famous actors, including Woody Harrelson, Jurgen Prochnow (Das Boot), and Mariel Hemingway (Manhattan); this could have turned out unbearably precious, but the restraint and respect of the performances allows the voices of the writers to come through with understated power. The documentary is filled with gruesome details ("The dead covered the ground like a straw mat," declares a Japanese soldier) and the atrocities at times verge on unendurable; there's a reason this occupation is commonly held up as a definitive example of man's inhumanity to man. But throughout the horror are glimpses of astonishing courage and the deepest generosity, some of it driven by what can only be described as fierce pacifism. There are startlingly instructive moments (for example, while soldiers raped and looted the city, the Japanese army made propaganda films of soldiers giving candy to hungry children), but the culminating emotional impact of the documentary goes beyond anything didactic. The invasion of Nanking provokes controversy even now, 70 years later. Nanking is unlikely to lay denials to rest, but it's a potent and valuable reminder of the degradation of war. --Bret Fetzer
Top Customer Reviews
This powerful documentary tells this story, based on the diaries and letters from those few committed Westerners. Most of them were missionaries and the one woman, Minnie Vautrin, ran a girls' college. There was also a German businessman who was a Nazi. In addition to interviews with some survivors, as well as historical footage, the filmmaker used a staged reading of the diaries and letters of these Westerners by a variety of professional actors as a device to tell this story. Woody Harrelson is one of these actors as well as Mariel Hemmingway. Jurgen Prochnow was cast in the role of John Rabe the German businessman who, at one point, wishes he could let Adolph Hitler know about these Japanese outrages because he considered Hitler a compassionate man who would not let such atrocities exist.
The filmmakers did an excellent job of organizing a tremendous amount of material. The film was well paced, clear, to the point, and didn't have a wasted word or image. Most of the time there were tears in my eyes and yet the underlying story of how the courage of the brave few who kept the carnage from being even worse, turned the film into moving story instead of letting it sink into absolute despair.
This story is a part of history that should not be forgotten, and a story of inspiration amidst the despair.
Nanking is a truly great film. I give it nothing by accolades.
War is crime.Read more ›
When I saw that there was a documentary of the horrors of Nanking, I quickly rented it for a visual background of the sordid events. There are a number of gruesome and troubling pictures although they were properly limited. The written record of the crime tells more than the limited video account. Much of the written record of the rape and murder came from a group of European educators, missionaries, businessmen and doctors. Their efforts to save as many of the potential victims in an international safe zone were largely successful and were a main focus of the documentary.
What bothered me about the format of "Nanking" was the decision to have actors portray the Europeans who wrote about the events while using actual Chinese survivors relate their own personal stories. The mix didn't work at all in my opinion. There was enough film of the Europeans to use along with still photos as background for voice narration of the accounts. Watching the actors sitting in a studio while speaking selections from the written accounts detracted from the video accounts of horror and the testamonials of the actual survivors. The film's depiction of heros, villans, victims, survivors and Hollywood actors might have worked for a fund-raiser but not for a documentary.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
dvd was advertised as Chinese with English subtitles, it was in English with spainish subtitles. Apart from that it was okPublished 11 months ago by D.Bernia
This documentary--told through the rereading o`f correspondence about Nanking from American, German, and French missionaries and social workers who were on the scene in 1937-1939--... Read morePublished 15 months ago by Consequence
A good documentary of the history although the Japanese government still denies what happened. No bloody scenes.Published 15 months ago by James T. Yeh
A very sad story of how the Japanese treated the Chinese before (1937), during and after the Americans ended it in 1945. It was a Holocaust that nobody recognized. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Mike