NPR logo

Hollywood Takes On Japan's 1937 Invasion of China

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/11833494/11833495" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Hollywood Takes On Japan's 1937 Invasion of China

Movies

Hollywood Takes On Japan's 1937 Invasion of China

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/11833494/11833495" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

It is one of the most politically charged dates in China. This weekend, the country marked the 70th anniversary of the start of Japan's full-scale invasion in 1937. And adding to the tension, American filmmakers chose this sensitive occasion to open a film about wartime atrocities during that invasion.

From Shanghai, NPR's Louisa Lim reports on how Hollywood has taken on Asia's most bitter historical dispute.

(Soundbite of movie "Nanking")

Unidentified Man: What I'm about to relate is a story which I feel must be told, even if it's seen by only a few.

LOUISA LIM: These are the words, which opened the new film "Nanking." But they apply equally to the movie's producer Ted Leonsis, who says he felt compelled to tell the story after reading the bestseller "The Rape of Nanking."

Mr. TED LEONSIS (Producer, "Nanking"): This is at its heart an anti-war movie and a movie that focuses on the individual acts of kindness of foreigners. It is a universal story of goodness. It's not a story that dwells on the evil.

(Soundbite of movie "Nanking")

Unidentified Man: …August 1937. Today, out of the Far East come grim messages of a new conflict. A gory chronicle of Japan's war…

LIM: The documentary pieces together old newsreels - graphic footage of corpses, survivors' accounts, and staged readings of diaries written by foreigners present at the time. It tells how Japanese troops invaded the then capital Nanking, now called Nanjing, in 1937, and the six-week orgy of rape and violence that followed. The movie focuses on how the few remaining foreign residents set up a safety zone to protect Chinese civilians, saving hundreds of thousands of lives.

(Soundbite of movie "Nanking")

Unidentified Woman: (Speaking foreign language)

LIM: Those weeks of terror have left a deep scar in the Chinese psyche. Yet there's still dispute about what happened. Beijing estimates 300,000 people were killed. But about 100 Japanese ruling party lawmakers have criticized the film, saying Tokyo's archive showed 20,000 people died.

Producer Ted Leonsis denies the film might reopen old wounds.

Mr. LEONSIS: I also think that the film and the political overtones, which we touched on a bit, have been overblown. This is a documentary film. It has heroes, and it has news related - has interviews with survivors and Japanese soldiers. But it's just a film.

(Soundbite of protest)

LIM: The anti-Japanese sentiment is still rampant in China, following violent street demonstrations two years ago. Many analysts then pointed out how the Chinese Communist Party had used anti-Japanese nationalism as the unifying force to boost its own legitimacy. This film was made with Chinese government support, yet Director Dan Sturman vehemently denies it's playing into Beijing's agenda.

Mr. DAN STURMAN (Director, "Nanking"): There has been some discussion over the Internet, in particular, in which we're being accused of being tools of the Chinese propaganda industry. It's ironic and, I guess, particularly frustrating and appalling for us, because the film is fundamentally and exclusively a product of our own efforts. We completely control the editorial content.

(Soundbite of movie "Nanking")

LIM: For elderly filmgoer Karl Liu(ph), these scenes brought back terrifying memories of hiding from Japanese bombardment as a tiny child. He believes there are risks and rewards in showing this film to Chinese audiences.

Mr. KARL LIU (Filmgoer): (Through translator) The good thing is this film could teach Chinese people to stand up and not be bullied by others. But the bad thing is that it could bring up more hatred.

LIM: It's significant that the movie is not yet being shown in Nanjing, the city after which it was named. Distributors say it won't be screened there until mid-August, possibly on the anniversary of Japan's surrender. That such caution is being exercised shows that even if the filmmakers think it's just another film, others may be worrying its powerful scenes might inflame yet more enmity and mistrust.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.