the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

Image Entertainment presents

Nanking (2007)

"In Nanking we had time on our hands and nothing to do. So we raped girls."- Sakai Hiroshi (Sonny Saito)

Stars: Woody Harrelson, Mariel Hemingway, Stephen Dorff, Rosalind Chao, John Getz, Jürgen Prochnow
Other Stars: Michelle Krusiec, Chris Mulkey, Sonny Saito, Graham Sibley, Hugo Armstrong, Robert Wu, Mark Valley
Director: Bill Guttentag, Dan Sturman

MPAA Rating: R for disturbing images and descriptions of wartime atrocities, including rape
Run Time: 01h:29m:58s
Release Date: 2008-04-29
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A+A-B+ D+


DVD Review

Although the Holocaust in Europe gets plenty of attention, the equally horrific atrocities by the Japanese before and during World War II tend to get fairly short shrift. This riveting documentary helps remedy that to some extent, by focusing on one of the more notorious of the displays of evil, the Rape of Nanking in 1937-1938.

Nanking was at that time the capital of China, a garden spot and a natural target for the ruthlessly expansionist Japanese and their theories of racial superiority. After conquering Shanghai, the Japanese army headed for Nanking, expecting a quick and bloody victory. What they had not counted upon, however, was the presence of a few dozen Westerners, who beyond all reason had stayed behind to offer what protection they could for the impoverished Chinese who were too poor to flee the city. Setting up a "Safety Zone," they sheltered about a quarter of a million Chinese in an area of two square miles, while the Japanese army went on a rampage of murder, rape, arson and looting.

Those who made this brave stand were a peculiar lot, being composed largely of American missionaries and Nazi businessmen, hoping to use their neutrality or Japanese alliances to try to rescue those who they could. Of particular note is Minnie Vautrin (Mariel Hemingway), who was the dean of the Ginling College in Nanking, and who personally took it upon herself to save girls and women from the ravages of the Japanese army. Also in the group are Bob Wilson (Woody Harrelson), the only surgeon left in Nanking, and Siemens executive John Rabe (Jürgen Prochnow), who hoped that he could reason with Hitler in order to get the Japanese to cease their genocidal mania.

The presentation is made in interesting fashion, with the Westerners portrayed by actors on stage reading from their letters, journals and other writings. Interspersed among them are interviews with now-aged survivors of Nanking, as well as footage taken secretly by some of those who remained there and smuggled out in a vain hope of obtaining international assistance or at least urging of restraint upon the Japanese. Much like the disregard offered to dens of butchery such as Darfur today, the West utterly ignored the plight of China until the venom of Japanese nationalism and militarism came to their own front doors.

The film is deeply moving and much of it is like a punch to the gut; even though the descriptions and atrocity footage are frequently ghastly, this is a chapter in history that needs to be remembered with horror if it is not to be repeated. Even though the sensitive may be disturbed by the goings-on, the truly stomach-churning parts of the documentary are the bits of footage featuring the elderly but wholly unrepentant Japanese soldiers yukking it up as they reminisce about butchering unarmed men by the thousands and holding girls down to rape them and then gutting them with a bayonet. Perhaps even more chilling is the brief look at modern Japanese nationalists who revere these war criminals as heroes. One point solidly made is that the Japanese actually restrained themselves in Nanking because of the outside observers present; just how horrible would it have been had they had a totally free hand?

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen transfer is quite attractive, with plenty of texture and detail in the footage of the actors and the testimony of the Chinese witnesses. The Japanese footage looks soft, and may be video sourced. For obvious reasons the vintage footage from Nanking is in rather rough condition. The only artifacting I noticed was some moderate mosquito noise on the end titles. Otherwise it looks fine.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: For a documentary, this soundtrack provides plenty of punch. The bombing sequences before the Japanese army enters Nanking offers solidly room-shaking bass. The background music by Philip Marshall, performed by the Kronos Quartet, has good presence and there's nice timbre audible from their strings. The dialogue is clear throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Taxi to the Dark Side, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, War Dance, In the Shadow of the Moon
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Other than an anamorphic widescreen trailer for the feature and trailers for four other unconnected releases, there are no extras. Chaptering is solid.

Extras Grade: D+

Final Comments

An appalling and important documentary about the Rape of Nanking that is tremendously effective and moving in its portrayal of bravery among an endless stream of horrors. Recommended and essential viewing.

Mark Zimmer 2008-05-13