Thursday, 13 August 2015

City of War (2009)

No-one knows how many people died in the Nanjing Massacre: most estimates generally place the numbers killed by the Japanese Army as between 40,000 and 200,000 people, though the Chinese government claims 300,000 and some Japanese nationalists deny there was a massacre at all.

What is known is that roughly a quarter million Chinese civilians were sheltered in the "Nanking Safety Zone".  This demilitarised area was established and maintained by an international committee of American, British and German representatives.  The leader of the committee was John Rabe, a German, and a card-carrying member of the Nazi Party.

Like the more famous Oscar Schindler, Rabe was a Nazi party member who used his position - and his own personal wealth - to protect the lives of those considered enemies of the Reich or its allies.  I'm not going to compare the two men's achievements: it doesn't matter who took more risks, sacrificed more, or saved more lives.  Both men deserve to have their efforts recognised and celebrated.

Obviously this film is an account of Rabe's activities, and a good one, though I do think it errs to much into fictionalisation at times.  The committee's achievements are quite dramatic enough without adding in late night chases, putting Rabe's wife on the USS Panay (an American gunboat sunk by the Japanese) or other such malarkey.

Despite the fictionalisation, however, this is a worthwhile film.  The cast is strong, and the depiction of Rabe is sufficiently nuanced that he doesn't feel whitewashed.  I'm glad I saw it, and learned Rabe's story.

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