New Internationalist

City of Life and Death

May 2010

It’s only a feature film, and it’s shot in black and white, but City of Life and Death is an intense, indelible experience. It tells of the Imperial Japanese Army’s capture and occupation of Nanjing, the former Chinese capital, in 1937, when several hundred thousand Chinese were massacred and tens of thousands gang-raped.

It’s about extremes of human behaviour and experience, but it’s not gory, sensationalist or propagandist. With almost no dialogue, the camera registers the experience on the faces of half a dozen participants, not least two Japanese officers.

Director Lu’s command of tone (cutting from the bayoneting of prisoners to athletics and dance practice) and of scale (from the machine-gunning of thousands to a half dozen naked bodies wheeled on a handcart through a soldiers’ mess) can be gut-wrenching. The film, though, is not a horror schlock but a compassionate humanist epic about militarism.

Mostly it follows the aftermath of battle as a few thousand Chinese shelter in an international safety zone. Lu sets solidarity against violence, with women volunteering to become ‘comforters’ for the Japanese troops in order to get food into the zone. It’s never clear cut or simply black and white: we see amongst the Chinese, cowardice and self-preservation, along with the heroism and self-sacrifice. We follow a Japanese soldier, a militarist to the core, whose only moment of fellow feeling is with a man who has stood in for someone else before a firing squad.

The killer, Lu makes clear, is the mindset. This is a stunning celebration of life and humanity.

ML

This column was published in the May 2010 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

Comments on City of Life and Death

Leave your comment







 

  • Maximum characters allowed: 5000
  • Simple HTML allowed: bold, italic, and links

Registration is quick and easy. Plus you won’t have to re-type the blurry words to comment!
Register | Login

  1. #1 Lee 28 Sep 14

    As an American I used to feel sorry for the Japanese who were nuked at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But after learning what the Japanese did in WW2, I think nuking them was a very good thing.

Subscribe to Comments for this articleArticle Comment Feed RSS 2.0

Guidelines: Please be respectful of others when posting your reply.

City of Life and Death Fact File
Product information 135 minutes
Star rating5

Get our free fortnightly eNews

Multimedia

Videos from visionOntv’s globalviews channel.

Related articles

Recently in Film

All Film

Popular tags

All tags

This article was originally published in issue 432

New Internationalist Magazine issue 432
Issue 432

More articles from this issue

  • Iraq in pieces

    May 1, 2010

    Hadani Ditmars returns to a country where ongoing conflict underscores a humanitarian disaster.

  • Murderers, you are welcome!

    May 1, 2010

    Jean Baptiste Kayigamba, who lost most of his family in the Rwandan genocide, wonders why Britain and France are harbouring the major perpetrators and whether recent legal changes will make a difference.

  • Empire of the senses

    May 1, 2010

    In an Egypt where sexual feelings are kept buttoned up by religiosity, Yahia Lababidi observes an all-pervading sensuality that will not be denied.

New Internationalist Magazine Issue 436

If you would like to know something about what's actually going on, rather than what people would like you to think was going on, then read the New Internationalist.

– Emma Thompson –

A subscription to suit you

Save money with a digital subscription. Give a gift subscription that will last all year. Or get yourself a free trial to New Internationalist. See our choice of offers.

Subscribe