No, they aren’t doing something new and ground breaking. Instead, they’re showing a film, a documentary, on a historical event. I usually skip over the “Reel Life” section on Cinemax on Demand, or HBO’s documentary series. They tend to be agenda driven pieces, bordering on over simplistic propaganda. But this entry caught my eye as I cruised for something to watch.
The title alone caught my attention, Nanking. Just that one word, the name of a city in China. For those that don’t know (and shame on you if you don’t), Nanking was the capital of Nationalist china before 1938. It was a cosmopolitain city of several hundred thousand people, located south west of the great port city of Shanghai. In 1937, under a staged incident, Japan declared war on China. following up on their land attacks from Manchuria, the Japanese invaded and took Shanghai, then pushed on to Nanking.
In just over three weeks, the Japanese forces pushed from Shanghai to Nanking, routing the Chinese forces before them. In that time, the Japanese launched some 600+ air raids on Nanking. Then hit the city with heavy artillery to break through the ancient walls that guarded the city. What followed after the Japanese occupation was a war crime, a series of attrocities that is now better known as the Rape of Nanking.
In that time, and intrepid, and varied group of Westerners living in Nanking did all they could to save as much of the civilian population as they could. They ranged from American missionaries to a German manager for Siemens (and Nazi party member). Thrust into a situation of such insanity and barbarism, they held on tenaciously, each effort at the potential cost of their own lives.
I won’t go into any of the details here. The film does it so much better.
The film itself has several aspects. First is the use of “name” actors to do stage readings of diary entries, letters, and memos from the actual participants. People such as Jurgen Prochnow, Woody Harrelson, and Muriel Hemmingway lend their talents to the film. Second is the use of interviews with survivors, and some Japanese participants. These are truly powerful accounts, and you will find yourself breaking down with the survivors as they tell their stories. Third is the use of archival footage. Some comes from news reels, some from Japanese Kwangtung Army documents, some taken by the participants (which were smuggled out at great risk).
More details can be found here:
This is a film very much worth watching. It is not an easy one to watch, as there are several instances of gruesome acts. However, for those who wish to understand history, and what can still be called living history, this is worth watching. Anyone of high school age or older, and especially anyone who wants to know more about WW2 should watch this.
It’s set to debut on Cinemax Tuesday April 29 at 7PM Eastern and Pacific. It is also currently available On Demand on Cinemax On Demand.