Generally favorable reviews - based on 19 Critics What's this?

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Universal acclaim- based on 9 Ratings

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  • Summary: Nanking is a powerful reminder of the heartbreaking toll that war takes on the innocent, and a testament to the courage and conviction of a few individuals determined to act in the face of evil. The film tells the story of the Japanese invasion of Nanking, China in the early days of World War II and focuses on the efforts of a small group of unarmed Westerners who established a safety zone where over 200,000 Chinese found refuge. The events of the film are told through deeply moving interviews with Chinese survivors, archival footage, and the chilling testimonies of Japanese soldiers, interwoven with staged readings of the Westerners' letters and diaries as performed by Woody Harrelson, Mariel Hemingway, Jurgen Prochnow, and Stephen Dorff, among others. (THINKFilm) Expand
Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 17 out of 19
  2. Negative: 0 out of 19
  1. Not only is the film a powerful historical record and a warning for future generations, it is an essential reminder to people, including many in Japan today, who might deny that this massacre ever occurred. As such, Nanking honors the highest calling of documentary filmmaking.
  2. Reviewed by: Ken Fox
    What Guttentag and Sturman gain in dramatic immediacy, however, they lose when it comes to historical context, and the chance to offer insight into why such things occur in the first place -- and continue to happen today -- is lost.
  3. Nanking, directed by Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman, does justice to this tragedy even though it makes the mistake of mixing the testimony of actual participants with staged readings from actors subbing for real people.
  4. 75
    Everyone knows about the Holocaust, but few today have heard about what was infamous as the Rape of Nanking, when 200,000 residents of what was then China's capital were massacred by invading Japanese troops.
  5. Reviewed by: Sid Smith
    Whatever the numbers, testimony cited in Nanking portrays the episode as a horrifying chapter in man’s renowned inhumanity to man.
  6. Reviewed by: Jeremy Mathews
    While at times the film begins to feel like a laundry list of bad deeds, the first-person accounts pack a wallop.
  7. Individually these elements are powerful, but they fail to mesh or collide with one another in any satisfying way, and the movie's score only exacerbates the problem.

See all 19 Critic Reviews

Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 2 out of 3
  2. Negative: 0 out of 3
  1. HarrisL.
    Dec 25, 2007
    Saw this deeply moving and difficult documentary on Christmas Eve. And a movie depicting the slaughter of several hundred thousand Chinese by invading Japanese seems hardly the move to see on Christmas Eve. But the courage and clear moral choices made by 20 westerners to do what they could to save the lives of innocent victims of war, rape and oppression answered for me better than anything else I've seen this holiday season the question "What would Jesus do?" He'd have stayed behind, as every other western national fled, to take a moral stand against brutality and war. Hard to watch but a reminder about how people can make a profoundly moral decision to stand up, and back against, the force of evil. I highly recommend this film. Expand
  2. ChadS.
    May 1, 2008
    In Atom Egoyan's "Ararat", the Canadian filmmaker depicted the Armenian massacre at the hands of Muslim Turks, as a film within a film, a reenactment in front of a Armenian director's rolling cameras. To show the true face of genocide without some sort of distnaciation is unfilmable. "Nanking" knows this. That's why "Nanking", narratively, bears a striking resemblance to Mario Van Peebles' "Badassssss!"". And like Louis Malle's "Vanya on 42nd Street", the filmmaker shows the actors' arrival at the set before they settle into their respective characters. And sure enough, "Nanking" can't help but feel like theater(or more to the point, performance art), when recognizable actors such as Woody Harrelson and Mariel Hemingway deliver dramatic readings of their real life counterparts, alongside newsreel footage of war atrocities, and the testimonies of actual witnessess to said war atrocities. They're a necessary evil. So deal with it. Without names, however, "Nanking" wouldn't get the funding, or make the art-house circuit, or receive a proper DVD release. But because the story of Japanese occupation in China's capitol is such a horrific account to stomach, the actors do eventually disappear into character. Ultimately, what matters is that the story gets out to the uninitiated. Knowing what you now know about the Japanese during wartime, you'll never look at their national cinema in the same way. Especially the films of Yasujiro Ozu. Now that you know, they'll look like propaganda films. Expand
  3. JanschieD
    Aug 7, 2009
    This documentary is well made. However, another exactly similar documentary was already made and shown sometime ago concerning Japanes "war crimes". (There were many). Somehow, this film doesn't have any of the impact of the former - nor does it carry the impact or inspiration of its precursor book, The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang. It hardly explains the why's of the atrocity. It does a good job of presenting the chronology of the events- and most of these are done so in a very moving way. The narrating actors are generally good to superflous - but, on the whole, they really add nothing to the story. The interviews with Chinese victims are very poignant - the ones with Japanese soldiers are repugnant - not one of these old men demonstrate a drop of remorse - and this is manipulation. Other records show that there was and is a great amount of rethinking on the part of these common soldier perpetrators. Lawrence Rees's recent book on the World War 2 Japanese armies is a good starting point. In summary, a satisfactory attempt about a difficult and relatively unknown terrible crime among many that has gone mostly unpunished. Chang's book "The Rape of Nanking" is a much better introduction to this compelling subject. Expand