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Laramie Movie Scope: Nanking

Never forget what happened in Nanking

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 11, 2008 -- This documentary film uses dramatic readings, archival footage and interviews with survivors to recreate the Japanese army's occupation of Nanking, China from 1937 to 1940, better known as the “Rape of Nanking” or “The Nanking Massacre.” This documentary highlights both the best and the worst that humanity has to offer. The worst behavior belonged the Japanese soldiers who destroyed, burned, looted, murdered and raped at will for years in that beleaguered city, once the capitol of China. The film attempts to recount the savagery and depravity of the occupying Japanese army, but it was clearly beyond description. The best behavior belonged to a small band of foreigners who created a “safe zone” in the middle Nanking and managed to save nearly a quarter of a million people in that zone for several years. This small band of foreigners formed a very unlikely alliance, including Americans, Europeans and one proud member of the Nazi Party, John Rabe, a German businessmen who has been called the Oskar Schindler of Nanking.

These foreigners, professors, doctors missionaries and businessmen, took it upon themselves to protect Nanking's poor from the Japanese army. Essentially, they were ordinary people who performed an extraordinary service. Armed only with symbols, their courage and compassion, they proceeded to protect Chinese civilians for over two years. The Japanese seemed to be afraid of two symbols in particular, according to the documentary, the American flag and the Nazi Swastika. Since Germany was allied with Japan, Rabe's swastikas stopped Japanese incursions into the safe zone on numerous occasions. Minnie Vautrin, an American professor at a woman's college, successfully used her American flag to stop the rape of the young women under her protection. Of course the brave foreigners were unable to stop the Japanese army all the time. Thousands were taken from the safe zone and murdered or raped. The foreigners did manage to smuggle out some 16 millimeter film documenting Japanese atrocities, but the foreign powers, including America, did nothing about it for years, just as nothing was done about the genocide in Europe committed by Nazi Germany until near the end of the war. Some of those who protected the Chinese in Nanking suffered after the war. One person, haunted by memories, committed suicide after leaving Nanking.

Some of those smuggled films are seen in the documentary. The films and the still photos taken during the occupation show an almost unimaginable horror. In addition to the archival images, some survivors are interviewed for this film, including Japanese soldiers who were there. Much of the material spoken by actors in the film is from letters and diaries of the brave few who stood against the Japanese army in Nanking. Some in Japan deny the Nanking Massacre and the deniers are funding their own films. Nevertheless, we should never forget what happened in Nanking, just as we should never forget what happened to the Armenians in Turkey or the Jews in Europe. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2008 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)