City of War: The Story of John Rabe (2009)

  |  Biography, Drama, History


City of War: The Story of John Rabe (2009) Poster

A true-story account of a German businessman who saved more than 200,000 Chinese during the Nanjing massacre in 1937-38.

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15 September 2011 | murray-morison
8
| An unsung hero
This is the second film about the Nanking (Nanjing) massacre of 1937, to come out recently. Both feature a man whose bravery saved many thousands of lives and who was largely unknown to the wider world until very recently. John Rabe was a member of the Nazi party and had worked in Nanking as the senior executive for Siemens for many years. In the eponymous film it's suggested that he is about to return to Germany, but his departure is prevented by the sudden attack with over-powering military force, by the Japanese.

Rabe stays, and heads a committee that sets up a safety zone around the Siemens works and the main embassies. When the Japanese take Nanking, and embark on wholesale rape and slaughter, this zone keeps more than 200,000 Chinese in greater safety that elsewhere in the city.

The story is seen through Rabe's eyes mainly and focuses more on Westerners than the Japanese, although the dire impact of a member of the Imperial Family on the decisions made by the Japanese to execute unarmed soldiers, is highlighted .

Some beheadings are shown but the wide scale practice of rape and enforced prostitution is skirted around. Nevertheless, the atmosphere of menace, instant arbitrary death and fanaticism is established effectively.

The film grips and, in its own way, inspires. It is interesting to see this film and the more symbolic approach taken by Chuan Lu in 'City of Life and Death'. Both cover the same time period. Both are films that leave you pondering on human nature, its heights and its gross distortions.

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