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Nanjing Massacre seen through the eyes of a Japanese soldier

SEVENTY-TWO years after the Nanjing Massacre, a Chinese film maker chooses a daring perspective on the days of war and atrocity: that of a young Japanese soldier. Xu Wei reports.

Almost all films and documentaries about the Nanjing Massacre in 1937 are shot from the point of view of the victims. A new film released nationwide yesterday takes a look through the eyes of a horrified young Japanese soldier from a church school.

"City of Life and Death," also called "Nanking! Nanking!" by young Chinese filmmaker Lu Chuan is one of two films about the massacre to be released this month.

The other, "John Rabe," is a Sino-German coproduction to be released next Wednesday, concerning a German businessman's efforts to set up a safe haven for a quarter of a million Chinese.

"In the past, Chinese films never probed deeply enough into how and why the war happened," Lu told The Hollywood Reporter on March 23. "I made this film in order to open a window for more discourse on either side."

Lu, a so-called "sixth-generation" film director, is considered one of China's most talented.

The film, four years in the making, is shot entirely in black and white with handheld cameras, giving it a grainy, newsreel documentary feel. Lu recruited Japanese stage actors who had never been in China and didn't know much about this cruel chapter in history - so the impact of the setting and events was more powerful.

The cost is around 80 million yuan (US$11.7 million), including the reconstruction of 1930s Nanjing in northeastern China's Jilin Province at a cost of 16 million yuan.

The characters include a Chinese schoolteacher, a Chinese soldier, a Chinese interpreter and John Rabe, among others. The film tells the story of their resistance. But at the heart of the movie is an ordinary Japanese soldier Kadokawa and his confusion, fear, depression, horror and regret about the slaughter. He questions the meaning of life.

The homesick soldier from a church school witnesses the murder of thousands of innocent civilians. His faith collapses.

Japanese actor Hideo Nakaizumi says that at first he felt uncomfortable with the role. But with director Lu's encouragement, he immersed himself in the project.

"I hope this film can convey a message to all the audiences of the world about how stupid war is," he says.

The Nanjing Massacre took place during China's War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-1945). In December 1937, Japanese troops occupied Nanjing, capital city of Jiangsu Province, and began a slaughter and rape that lasted more than eight weeks. More than 300,000 Chinese were killed.

"Compared with other productions about the same subject, our film emphasizes the robust resistance, patriotism and inner power of ordinary Chinese citizens during the slaughter," says the 38-year-old director. Before shooting, he spent two years collecting historical records.

Fan Wei and Qin Lan play a couple in the movie whose little daughter was thrown out of a window by crazed Japanese soldiers. They felt depressed after the filming about one of the most inhumane chapters of history, but say the experience has matured them.

"At first my character is a selfish coward," says Fan. "He vainly dreams of being a 'friend' to Japanese troops, and so he risks the lives of his compatriots to protect his family."

After witnessing the massacre, his patriotism is ignited, and he sacrifices his own life to save his Chinese countrymen.

"This film does not aim to raise hatred or tensions between the two nations," says director Lu, "but to make the young people of China aware of this part of history decades ago and get stronger."

Lu rose to fame from his film debut "The Missing Gun" (starring Jiang Wen) in 2002. The low-budget film describes the struggle of a policeman who loses his gun.

In 2004, his second feature film "Kekexili: Mountain Patrol" received wide acclaim for its portrayal of volunteer patrols trying to save the Tibetan antelopes from poachers. It won the Best Feature Film award at the 41st Taiwan Golden Horse Film Festival. It also won the Special Jury Prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival.

Though Lu is optimistic about the box-office performance of his new film, he will surely meet strong competition from "John Rabe" by Oscar-winning film maker Florian Gallenberger. It stars German actor Ulrich Tukur as Rabe and Chinese actress Zhang Jingchu as a student who uses her camera to record the calamity.

Where to watch "City of Life and Death" - Grand Theater, Metropol Cinema, Kodak Cinema, Stellar Cinema City, Hongqiao Century Cinema City, Shanghai Film Art Center, Lansheng Cinema, Cathay Theater


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