Films of Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing
City of Life and Death (Nanjing! Nanjing! 2009) and the Silenced Nanjing Native: Rebecca Nedostup
Lu Chuan’s 2009 feature film, City of Life and Death (Nanjing! Nanjing!), embodies in cinematic form a central historiographic problem surrounding the Nanjing Massacre: the muting of the voices of the victims themselves amid the postwar clash of nation-state politics and the resulting clamor for international authentication. In many ways, the film represents a significant artistic and philosophical step forward from the “numbers games” that played out in the late twentieth century, and from a destructive, self-generating dynamic whereby the extremes of crass denialism and a-historic nationalism came to dominate public discussions of the history of Japan’s war in China, despite the best efforts of historians.1 Lu Chuan’s film is notable for centering on the character of a hapless, though not blameless Japanese soldier; Kadokawa Masao is the person whose story the audience follows for the longest portion of running time, and in essence he is the moral core and moral question mark of the film. Interwoven with his experience are the figures of Chinese military men and a group of civilians based in the International Safety Zone. Notably, none of these featured characters are explicitly identified as Nanjing natives, and several are characterized as people from outside the city, or, indeed, the country. Thus, City of Life and Death, filmed in authenticity-lending black-and-white and often with a handheld camera for additional verisimilitude, inadvertently raises serious questions about victimhood and voice.
In this regard, Lu Chuan, who wrote the screenplay in addition to directing,...
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