Nanking Directed by William Guttentag, Dan Sturman
Starring Rosalind Chao, Stephen Dorff, Mariel Hemingway
Release Date: Dec. 12, 2007
The Raping of Nanking isn’t a figure of speech to the people in Nanking. Narrated by actors but made primarily of firsthand accounts by survivors of the Nanking atrocities, Nanking is bound to educate, enlighten, and horrify.
In 1937, long before the Americans entered World War II, the Japanese invaded China. They bombed most of Nanking. The rich people fled like rats from a fire, leaving the poor and infirmed to fend for themselves. Missionaries from all over the white world decided to stay during the attack to provide a refuge and place for medicine, food, and shelter to those people left behind. They started a safe zone in hopes the Japanese would respect it and the poor people of Nanking would be safe. They did not. It is estimated during that time that 20 thousand rapes occurred in less than six weeks and 200 thousand people were killed in the same time. Many of the murders and rapes were done in front of family members in particularly brutal fashion. Days turned into months and the torment didn’t stop.
Nanking is framed by the real-life stories of missionaries and business people of the west who were living in the Chinese city of Nanking at the time of the Japanese invasion. Their letters, often downright poetic, describe in detail what they witnessed as third-party observers. Hope dwindles into fear and finally into raw accountings of stories, their own and those passed to them.
Real-life survivors of the invasion of Nanking, now in the last stages of their lives, recount their stories. Their tales range from frightening to the downright obscene. Often their circumstances forced them to make unimaginable choices to survive unbelievable horrors. As disturbing as the graphic descriptions of the tormented is the unnerving laughter of the torturers as they recalled, in monstrously callous detail, what, how, and why they did what they did. There is also footage that runs through most of the movie.
Nanking moved me to anger in ways no film since The Last Days (a survivor’s recounting of the Hungarian Jew’s holocaust stories). One of the stories is of a little boy whose mother gets stabbed by a Japanese bayonet, entirely through her body while she was breastfeeding her other son. There are numerous horrors that happen to the family as the mother returns the baby to her breast and continues to suckle the baby a meal of milk and blood. The man telling the story nearly falls apart, breaking into unabashed weeping as he barely gets the words out, preserving his story.
Another shocking twist to this story is the Nazi hero. How backwards does the world have to be when one of the most heroic people in the lives of these victims is the local Nazi? With nothing more than his white skin and swastika, John Rabe (Letters Narrated by JÃ¼rgen Prochnow), a Nazi business man, kept waves of Japanese soldiers away from innocent civilians and out of his house.
Minnie Vautrin, elegantly portrayed by Mariel Hemingway, a proper Christian lady, stood up to throngs of Japanese soldiers, protecting her girls from rape, death, and being raped to death. Look to her to find strength when she should fold, and love when hate should run free.
It would be easy after watching this movie to have a strong racist hate against Japanese people. The brutal truth is that the take away is not that the Japanese are bad, even though what they did was unforgivable, but that we as a people cannot ask soldiers to be discriminating monsters; if we leave them with no supervision or accountability, they will undoubtedly act like monsters. We, as a globe, must learn when you turn off the taboo of killing, it does not go quietly or alone. We either accept the raping and killing which is evident in all wars, or we find a different way.
Nanking made me and my audience mates, men and women alike, weep and tremble. It taught me about current events, specifically why Chinese people still demand apologies from the Japanese and why their relationship is still strained. Mostly though, it reminded me why being a person of convenient principle is as bad as being a person of no principle at all.