Nanking is an amazing documentary film that presents the true story of how a few brave souls saved the lives of thousands of people in China in 1937. It is a horrific tale of war, brutality and carnage. It will break your heart but it will show you how real Christians respond to crisis when the chips are down.
In November of 1937 Japan decided to bomb and decimate the Chinese city of Nanking. The attack was called “the rape of Nanking” for very good reason. After the bombing raids the Japanese army invaded and slaughtered over 200,000 people in a matter of a few days. Soldiers ruthlessly raped girls and women, tortured men and boys and killed almost everyone they desired to kill at will. The generals allowed it, in fact seem to have sanctioned it under some kind of cultural mandate rooted in the nature of Japan’s history and religion. Some 25 people were later tried as war criminals and less than half were convicted. Most of us know little or nothing about this part of Word War II story.
Incredibly, a small group of Westerners, most of them Christian missionaries in China, decided to risk their lives for the poorest people of Nanking. They created a “safe zone” and protected as many people as possible. Through the letters of survivors, interviews with both Chinese and Japanese people who were involved in this episode, and by compelling diary entries we gain entrance into this amazing chapter in twentieth century history. It is brutal and chilling. Actors such as Woody Harrelson, Stephen Dorff and Mariel Hemingway are featured as readers and contributors and give the film a feel of true gravitas.
I knew a good deal about Japanese war crimes but nothing about Nanking. I found the most chilling horror of this film to be the smiles and light hearted way some of the Japanese participants still remembered Nanking seventy years after it took place. The evil of the human heart is immense. At the same time the good that can be expressed by true love is overwhelming. Nanking is a tremendously moving experience. I would encourage everyone who is over 16 to see it. It is a prize winning documentary for very good reason.
Nanking runs for 90 minutes and is rated R for violence and subject matter. It won several awards at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and was one of the best documentaries of 2007. It is widely available in libraries and from the usual film sources. A great amount of material on the film and Nanking itself can be found at the Nanking Film Web site.
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I’ve heard about these events through a Korean friend of mine. This stuff leaves me numb. Nanking type of events leaves me wondering whether it’s just better to believe there is no god or to wrestle with the notion that a god exists in light of this horror. I hope there really is such a thing as redemptive suffering…for all of mankind.