Nanking - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Nanking Reviews

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Super Reviewer
November 2, 2015
The presentation here is at first questionable. It begins with a look behind the wizard's curtain and we are shown a bit about how what we are about to see was constructed, recreated. But then the actual documentary, like a roller coaster at the apex of the highest point, truly begins, and the mere facts of this story alone are enough to terrify. The pictures serve to put you in the place, allows one to see with one's own eyes, even though you become increasingly aware that the producers have wisely chosen not to show all of what was committed in China then. Not for the faint of heart this. Two eyewitness accounts will burn into your memory forever.
November 1, 2015
A powerful and moving documentary devoted to shedding light on a singular event in the course of history where true evil reared its ugly head. The story of Nanking is so incredible for the fact that it is so forgotten by time, serving its purpose to show what hell on Earth can mean when allowed to grow and flourish. The atrocities committed are at times hard to listen to, especially when coming from the survivors who witnessed their families be killed in front of them and saw how little humanity humans are capable of showing.
February 9, 2015
An interesting framing of the documentary, with actors dressed up and reading the voices of the German and US folks who created the safety zone. A very disturbing documentary, brought more to life through the eye witness accounts.
July 27, 2014
This film must be seen to be believed. Few people have heard of the destruction wrought on what was then the Chinese capital. Even fewer know that the Japanese war criminals who were responsible for ordering the destruction are now venerated as gods in Japan. First, let me put the destruction in perspective. During Japan's virtual annihilation of the city, she killed 200,000 people in six weeks. Even at the height of Nazi efficiency, they only killed people at about a third of that rate. The Japanese were three times more ruthless in killing Chinese as the NAZIS were at killing the Jews at Auschwitz. That'a a sobering thought. Even more sobering is that this film only elucidates the atrocities that took place in ONE CITY in a country of what was, at that time, 650,000,000 people.

The film pulls no punches. We see still photos of the Japanese soldiers holding beheading contests using their katanas. We hear stories told both by the people who suffered and those who inflicted the suffering. We hear the journals of the small band of Westerners who strove to protect the Chinese from the horrible destruction. These words are read by modern-day actors and actresses, and their delivery is spine-tingling. Jürgen Prochnow and Mariel Hemingway are particularly effective portraying John Rabe and Minnie Vautrin. While their performances are nuanced and delivered with skill, the sheer ferocity of what occurred in late 1937 and 1938 in Nanking hits with all the subtlety of a cobalt bomb. There's no sugar at all on the film's coat. Some might argue that this film is anti-Japanese; on the contrary, the film is accurate in a desperately sad way. Japan is at fault for what they did in exactly the same way as Germany is at fault for what they did. The big difference, and the film shows this, is that, while Germany has atoned for its role in the Holocaust, Japan has not. In fact, many Japanese deny it ever happened or accuse the Chinese of exaggerating it.

See it. You NEED to see it and understand. The 200,000 victims, slaughtered at the rate of nearly 5,000 a day by various means, deserve recognition.
June 3, 2014
Powerful documentary gives greater context to Flowers of War and City of Life and Death. It's amazing how easy Japan got off the hook.
May 30, 2013
This is the kind of film more people need to be aware of. There was as an Asian holocaust at the hands of Imperial Japan that is not as known or understood my many young people today. Revisionist history argues that we brought the Pearl Harbor attacks on ourselves by backing Japan into a corner. Learn why is it Japan was backed into a corner, and the state of mind their leaders and military were in.
½ May 30, 2013
Welcome to the Schindler's list of the Pacific.
December 26, 2012
Maginificent documentary with stellar cast. A must-see.
May 18, 2012
Putting Woody Harrelson in Glasses Doesn't Make Him Respectable

This is a horribly depressing documentary, of course. No one would see its title and not think that unless they didn't know anything about the Rape of Nanking. Which, of course, means that there is an unfortunately large number of people who won't know what they're getting into just from the name. However, there is one moment which is very briefly delightful, though it is unfortunately followed up by something along the lines of, "And then the Japanese killed my mother." Because that's pretty much how stories about the Rape of Nanking go. However, the one moment which is pleasing to an audience, though it's probably unconscious on the part of the man being interviewed (more on which anon), is that he is still making sound effects for the planes and guns even all these years later. It's a remarkably human moment in a story which goes almost beyond human understanding.

Ideally, I should not have to go into the details of the Rape of Nanking here. Suffice it to say, then, that this documentary is a combination of historical footage, interviewers with survivors, and readings by current actors standing in for important figures of the events in question. Jürgen Prochnow, for example, stands in for John Rabe, whom we have seen before. Woody Harrelson is Dr. Bob Wilson, the Steve Buscemi character from [i]John Rabe[/i]. Mariel Hemingway is Minnie Vautrin. And so forth. And while they are not acting per se, they are very clearly intended to be portraying the figures whose words they are reading. For the most part, the camera shows us the faces, only occasionally delving into the imagery that Rabe and the others managed to document the horrors with. The timeline is laid out, illuminated by the details of rapes and murders. Some of the survivors weep as they tell of the things which specifically happened to them.

But I can't tell you those survivors' names. I do believe that it's impossible to tell the true and full story of the Rape of Nanking without using the experiences of those Westerners who saved so many lives, so I'm certainly not suggesting that they have no place in these events. They also serve to counter, at least a little, the idea that the Rape of Nanking was exaggerated if not outright invented by the Chinese government. However, neither of my usual two sites for checking details of a movie provide the names of the handful of actual Chinese people interviewed here. You can tell they're not actors, because they are old people telling stories about what happened to them when they were in children. One woman talks of being raped at twelve because she thought it would save her grandfather's life. One man talks of the death of his mother and how his baby brother was unable to understand what was going on. These are important stories, just as important as those of the Westerners. But I don't remember their names, and no one wants to help me.

It is frustrating to me that people call this documentary "anti-Japanese." As if the problem with the deaths was just that the killers were Japanese. Oh, we know it won't be airing in Japan any time soon, because Japan has never come to terms with its own history from that era. Producer Ted Leonsis insists that the film is merely anti-war, and I think that's accurate. No, it doesn't talk about the millions killed by things like the Great Leap Forward, but then, it also doesn't talk about the Korean "comfort women." Neither are relevant to the story being told, which is one city at one time. I'm quite sure that most of the people involved could say pretty scathing things about the mistakes made under Mao, as could I. That, however, simply isn't the point. Nor is any history between China and Japan up until that point or anything which has happened since. The point is to remember what happened in Nanking, to recognize part of our human history.

To me, the importance of Nanking is quite simply that it shows both the good and the evil of which humans are capable. John Rabe used the power of Nazi Germany to protect hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Oh, he was one of the only Germans I can excuse for not knowing what was going on in Germany at the time, being that he hadn't been to Germany in quite some time, and he was ignorant enough so that he thought Germany would step in and protect the people of Nanking. Minnie Vautrin committed suicide in despair for all the women she was unable to protect. However, she protected more women than she would have been expected to. The atrocities of Nanking--of World War II in general--are a portrayal of humanity at its worst. The stories of the Westerners of Nanking--and, yes Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg and many others--are a portrayal of humanity at its best. You need the former to truly display the latter, though I'd do without the latter if we could avoid the former while we're at it.
½ December 16, 2011
Not only important subject matter but a fresh and interesting way to do a documentary, even though the readings by the actors were uneven -- Stephen Dorff was reading pretty straight and flat, Mariel Hemingway was acting her ass off. Someone like Jurgen Prochnow was in the middle and perfect. Just nickpicks. It was good, but it's just not a favorite for me.
December 10, 2011
recommended by Loren.
½ August 14, 2011
A wonderful documentary projecting the atrocities committed at Nanking (far worse than the holocaust) but yet I only felt just terrified..nothing more
April 1, 2011
About to sit down and be terrifically bummed out by this film.
March 8, 2011
A documentary about the rape of Nanking, this makes for engrossing but uncomfortable viewing. Mixing documentary footage with survivors interviews, this only fails when using well known actors to read from real diaries. The real interviews, however, with both sides of the conflict represented, show in horrific detail the inhumanity that man can inflict on his fellow man
Super Reviewer
January 17, 2011
Straightforward and to the point, this documentary on the seldom heard Nanking atrocities is as intelligent as it is well made.
½ September 8, 2010
Damn, I watch a lot of really depressing documentaries. However, this is a very interesting production and, of course, one of the worst overall atrocities committed on people in history. The fact that it is still denied by so many people is akin to holocaust denial. Maybe because it was focused on one geographic area, but that area was worse than hell to be in. And I love Japan, but you can't help but feel some context when you see a movie like Tokyo Gore Police before watching this.

This is a very well projected telling of the tragedy through survivors, actual footage and actors reading journals and other first person accounts. It reminded me so much of Hearts and Minds or Night and Fog which reveal worst of human nature while at war. However, this one give so many first person accounts that there is a real connection to it more than just the shock. Ken Burns World War II documentary is like this in its ability to absorb and make you relate.

This is a production that provides an intimate portrayal that must be told to all. Some scenes are not for the squeamish, but the overall should be known.
½ August 22, 2010
If you like history and documentaries this one is a good one to watch with narration from top notch actors as well as interviews and commentary form some of the people who lived through the attack and the following terrors.
June 24, 2010
In 1937 the Japanese invaded China. First the city of Shanghai fell to the advancing army...than Nanking (former capital of China). This is a documentary with actors reading from the letters and communications of eight foreigners who chose to remain behind in Nanking. Missionaries, the director of a school for Chinese girls, a German businessman who was also a Nazi, and an American doctor...these people remained to do what they could to protect innocent lives. What followed were weeks of unspeakable horror and death as Japanese soldiers killed, raped, and burned Chinese citizens. Very graphic pictures of butchered men, women and children, along with a destroyed city show the full impact of war and the cruelty of mankind against his own kind. This production is a perfect reason why we must all demand PEACE now and an end to all wars!
June 19, 2010
This is a great documentary that very daftly interweaves modern actors dramatically reading personal diaries and eyewitnesses. This piece shows the kindness that humanity shows amid complete and total only major criticism is that it takes a very anti-Japanese tone near the end which I think counteracts the main motif...
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