Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre (1995)
By: Michael Helms on July 29, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Siren Visual Entertainment (Australia). Region ALL NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 91 minutes
The Movie
Director: T. F. Mou
Screenplay: T. F. Mou
AKA: Hei tai yang Nan Jing da tu sha; Men Behind The Sun 4
The second in an intended trilogy by Taiwanese taught filmmaker T.F. Mou that greatly expands upon the illicit practices of the Japanese brought against the Chinese in the infamous Man Behind The Sun (and don't confuse either of these two very serious films with the two Man Behind The Sun sequels).

After a dedication to all war victims to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the successful conclusion of the Campaign of Resistance and more titles to contextualise what is about to come, Black Sun settles down to pictorialising the genocide (300,000 is the figure most commonly bandied around) and torture that occurred in China in late 1937/early1938. Two story strands are teased out through the eyes of the Japanese generals on the ground and one following a family and their attempts to keep themselves together.

From the start, black and white war footage is mixed in with colour recreations almost randomly mixing things up. In the aftermath of heavy bombing (an invention of the Japanese) Japanese troops march into Nanking picking through the bodies already piled up in mounds. A beheading is shown before a Chinese lying amongst the dead grabs a Japanese soldier and sets off his hand grenade. Soldiers are throwing Chinese to their deaths when not using bullets or bayonettes in their clean up program. A Japanese-speaking Chinese man is taken from a crowd who are then immediately machine gunned. A family is decimated when the parents are killed in front of the rest of the family group. The Japanese devise a killing competition and encourage the taking of, "trophies". A pregnant woman is kicked in the stomach then bayonetted and has her fetus ripped out. Japanese leaders discuss the ease of governing the Chinese when there's less of them and stop to pose for photographs. A safety zone for refugees is ignored as the Japanese enact the order to kill all prisoners of war. Japanese leaders discuss the acquisition of Chinese antiques and demonstrate the ability of their swords to decapitate prisoners. An authentic black and white still of the same scene is then put up for inspection.

A man taken away to a machine field yells at his children to stay put. Old people, women and children are killed by death squads going door to door. Another meeting of military heads is a battle of egos where one states casually that it's, "No big deal to kill a hundred people". The decision is made to target leaders at the refugee safety zones. Footage is shown of the wounded and their wounds inside a hospital refuge. The main problem the Japanese face is that their executioners always need replacing. Japanese soldiers wash their faces in egg whites. A body is removed from a pile of naked women. A Chinese man falls on a fire and a Japanese soldier laughs only to have the enraged Chinese grab him and throw him on the fire. A body disposal problem arises. The Japanese remove 2000 Chinese police from their posts and machine gun them. The Japanese continue with their policy to, "stun and threaten". A Chinese woman who is being chased leads her pursuers through a family home where the Japanese throw a baby in a boiling pot in front of her mother. The woman is cornered, kicked and stabbed with a sword and left to die. Real footage shows her being treated in hospital. The Japanese interrupt a Buddhist burial and shoot the corpse of the baby from the previous scene. With Japanese pay and food running low the hunt for valuables is on and when a Japanese soldier spies a pretty jade bangle he just chops off the hand that's wearing it. A mass burning of bodies (both alive and dead) occurs by the river as huge black clouds blot out the sky. A Chinese man comes across his family just as a Japanese soldier is doing up his pants having raped everyone from three generations left in the house. Organising another victorious still photo a Chinese man accidentally becomes beheaded and his head rolls towards the feet of his son. A monk is forced to rape a woman at gunpoint but ends up having his genitals removed when he refuses to comply. A dog casually eats the intestines of a body lying in the street. A little girl is grabbed and raped. In order to save her grandson a woman slaps the face of a young boy and refuses him entry to his former home. Xmas Eve comes and a small ceremony is held by non-Japanese foreigners. A recording of Silent Night is played over real atrocity footage. The young boy refused re-entry to his house is seen trudging aimlessly through the streets of Nanking.

Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre may very well be the ultimate war atrocity film simply because no one is ever going to be able to recreate what has occurred here either stylistically or physically, no matter what advances the digital world will ever have to offer. Think the opening 20 minute sequence to Saving Private Ryan amplified 100 times and then regurgitated by the people who experienced the event but who never knew how or what they were being forced to endure. Black Sun plays like an amazing oral history of a story where the tellers every now and then reach into their pockets to pull out some sort of well-worn document that backs up what they are saying to a sometimes disbelieving audience. Not overly sentimental but biased to a Chinese perspective Black Sun is a step beyond Man Behind The Sun in that burning rats are now replaced with hundreds of flaming humans. No wonder the filmmaker has no confidence in ever getting his third film on the subject produced or perhaps that's the reason the film he made for Shaw Brothers Lost Souls, has so far only found a minimal VCD release.
Considering the heavy reliance on a mish mash of stock footage, black and white stills and re-created scenes Black Sun looks magnificent and that's despite the dirtiness of the print that doesn't stop displaying marks even after the final fade to black. Simply worth viewing just to see the staging of the massive burn sequence. The subtitles remain highly readable throughout.
The stereo sound quality is busy and more than adequate rarely letting you forget that you're watching a war movie.
Extra Features
Designed to give a complete historical context and background to the making of Black Sun the extras are copious starting with a selection of 34 stills which includes 18 production photos and 16 historical shots that were integral in creating many of the scenes used. There's a virtual map of Nanking which is linked to information slides that provide data concerning parts of town in which the film was set and what actually occurred there. There's a history of the Nanking massacre in 24 pages of text that enlarges upon points made in the virtual map information. Two interviews are presented in text format with director Tun Fei. The first conducted at the 1998 Fantafest by Donato Totaro, Mitch Davis and Jason Slater focuses on Man Behind The Sun while the other interview by Jeffrey DeRego centres on the circumstances behind the filmmaker's struggle to make and intentions for Black Sun. Then there's 62 minutes of the US propaganda films Why We Fight, directed by Frank Capra that present a massive overview to the events that led to Japan invading China, showing footage from the frontline and talking up the evil of the Japs. Despite it's status as unadulterated propaganda a sneaking admiration for the Japanese ability to formulate and mobilise it's plans and society does sneak in. If that's not all there's trailers thrown in for Boy Meets Girl, Junk and Evil Dead Trap 2.
The Verdict
Black Sun is highly recommended for it's ability to shock, inform, thrill and permanently chill even the most hardcore gorehound.
Movie Score
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