Koch On Film
By Ed Koch
This documentary about Japans 1937 invasion of Nanking uses a device which in a limited way turns it into a docudrama. Actors are used to read from the historical statements and letters made at the time by westerners residing in Nanking. Their statements are read by about ten actors including Woody Harrelson and Mariel Hemingway. Chinese victims were recorded at the time or later by the media.
The Japanese had invaded China and captured Shanghai before the attack on Nanking occurred. Nanking, which was the capital of China and the headquarters of Chiang Kai-shek, was quickly overrun by the Japanese Army and a massacre followed. War Crime trials were held after World War II, and in its decision the International Military Tribunal for the Far East stated:
Estimates made at a later date indicate that the total number of civilians and prisoners of war murdered in Nanking and its vicinity during the first six weeks of the Japanese occupation was over 200,000. That these estimates are not exaggerated is borne out by the fact that burial societies and other organizations counted more than 155,000 bodies which they buried. They also reported that most of those were bound with their hands tied behind their backs. These figures do not take into account those persons whose bodies were destroyed by burning, or by throwing them into the Yangtze River, or otherwise disposed of by Japanese.
According to the website, Historyplace.com:
After the destruction of the POWs, the soldiers turned their attention to the women of Nanking and an outright animalistic hunt ensued. Old women over the age of 70 as well as little girls under the age of 8 were dragged off to be sexually abused. More than 20,000 females (with some estimates as high as 80,000) were gang-raped by Japanese soldiers, then stabbed to death with bayonets or shot so they could never bear witness.
One of the key individuals in the Nanking Massacre was John Rabe (Jurgen Prochnow), who was the Consul General of the Nazi Government of Germany. He was designated by everyone else as the leader of the westerners involved in saving Chinese civilians. He used the alliance between Japan and Germany to get the Japanese Army to allow the establishment of a safety zone which provided security for those fortunate to be admitted. The estimate is that about 250,000 people were saved. Rabe was reprimanded and suffered disgrace by the Nazi German government, and when he returned to Germany he became penniless. Survivors of Nanking sent him money to live on.
What I took away from the film is a feeling that after World War II we were much too lenient on the Japanese who engaged in similar savagery against American soldiers and civilians that they captured in the Philippines. Most of us are conscious of the savagery of the Nazis, but the awareness regarding Japanese brutality is far less. It is worth seeing this film just to refresh your memory of what took place in the Far East when the Japanese were winning the war which began in China.
This dour movie about the life of Ian Curtis (Sam Riley), lead singer in the English punk-rock band, Joy Division, will appeal to a small audience. I did not enjoy listening to the type of music they played, but I did enjoy the film.
Curtis began his brilliant career as a singer and songwriter while still in his teens. Because of the era, English accents (which are sometimes difficult to understand), and physical appearances, the band members reminded me of the Beatles. At the age of 20, Ian developed epilepsy, and the scenes of his seizures are difficult to watch. He married young and had a child with his wife, Deborah (Samantha Morton), and later developed an affection for another young woman, Annik Honore (Alexandra Maria Lara). Not able to give up either one ultimately destroyed him. He died in 1980 at the age of 23.
Curtiss gentleness, way of life, suffering and entertainment of others is superbly depicted by Seam Riley, and Samantha Morton and Alexandra Maria Lara are also wonderful in their roles. Even better is Toby Kebbell whose performance as the bands manager, Rob Gretton, is truly a superb ribbon of acting. The picture is based on a book by Curtiss wife, Deborah, entitled, Touching From a Distance. It made sense to me that this bleak, intimate story of this tortured soul would be filmed in black and white.
My grandniece, Jordan, explained to me that punk rock is more than music. It is a culture as well and some of its adherents are prone to violence. Some of that violence is depicted in the film.