City of Life and Death (南京, 南京 or Nanjing, Nanjing back in China), is a 2010 film directed by Lu Chuan.During the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Imperial Japanese Army lays siege to the city of Nanking, the capital of China at the time. When they destroy the Nationalist Chinese troops in a fierce battle, the city falls. The people of Nanking try to cope with life, even as their lives gradually become hell on earth. Shot in black-and-white entirely, most of the story follows Mrs. Jiang, a steely-eyed school teacher who is determined to protect her people from the invasion, Lu, a veteran Nationalist officer who leads an army remnant in street battles against all odds, and Kadokawa, a young and dreamy Japanese soldier who is torn between his hard-wired obedience to Imperial Japan and his own empathy for defenseless people.This film was dangerously close to being Banned in China, because it humanized the Japanese. The director received lots of online death threats, and it would've been pulled from Chinese cinemas if not for the support of a Communist Party official, who was a huge fan.Has been compared to Schindler's List, because of big similarities. Only this one is even moredepressing...
The Atoner: Kadokawa, "atoning" for the actions of the entire army he is a part of.
Badass Pacifist: John Rabe. It's one thing to stand up to an armed mob of blood-crazed soldiers when you're an ass-kicker extraordinaire. It's a whole other thing when you're an old man who can't even speak their language, armed only with his iron determination. (Although it does help that he's a Nazi.)
Break the Cutie: Any character with a shred of innocence. XiaojiangMs. JiangMay, all the girls raped (this is the Rape of Nanking, after all).
Disproportionate Retribution: Mrs. Jiang gets it, when she lies to Commander Ida that Zhao is her husband and Xiao her son, to save him from certain death. It doesn't work for her. But with him it's averted, when Kadokawa sets him free. Played straight when Tang's daughter, five years old, starts hitting the soldiers who are arresting her dad. They throw her from a window.
Doomed Moral Victor: Mr. Tang, who is defiant in the end. Before his execution, he informs Commander Ida that his pregnant wife got away from the city safely, and Ida can't do shit about it.
Downer Ending: Also Downer Beginning, Downer Middle, Downer Climax...it's the Rape of Nanking - of course it's a one-note symphony.
Ensemble Cast: Lu, Mrs. Jiang, Mr. Tang, and Kadokawa could all be considered protagonists.
Even Nazis Have Standards: Businessman John Rabe, who is utterly appalled by the carnage and desperate to save the people of the city. (Although this may not be a straight example, as Rabe, who joined the NSDAP in 1934 and spent most of the intervening time in China, seems to have been completely unaware of the party's racial policies - after all, on his return to Germany, he attempted to personally appeal to Hitler on behalf of the Chinese (a "lesser race"), and as a result was imprisoned and interrogated by the Gestapo).
Fate Worse than Death: This is what would've happened to Mrs. Jiang in the end, after she lies to the Japanese in order to save Zhao's and Xiao's lives. As she is dragged away, she just looks at Kadokawa and quietly pleads for him to shoot her. And he does.
For the Evulz: On the surface of what the film shows us, this may appear to be the only reason behind the Japanese soldier's actions. But, consider that many of who were conscripted who were raised in a militarist culture who were abused or "punished" by their superior officers by being slapped or beaten or whatnot, many of which are in their late teens and early 20s, who just fought a brutal battle in and around Shanghai for months and won by a relatively close margin, who were pissed and came upon a city full of goods and people. Shit will happen. Of course a lot of officers joined in too, as shown in the movie (think a certain Lieutanant)
Heroic BSOD: Tang, after his five-year-old daughter is flung from a window to her death in front of him. It leads to his change of heart regarding his collaboration.
Karma Houdini: Commander Ida. The closing credits say it all: "Osamu Ida, 1900 - 1979". note Ida is not a real life figure, but an Expy of Prince Asaka, the man who gave the order to kill all prisoners, and was never captured or charged for his crimes.
Les Collaborateurs: Rabe collaborates with the Japanese authorities, albeit very reluctantly. The eager-to-please Mr. Tang also does it, until the day they throw his little daughter from a window, just for laughs.
Meaningful Echo: During the Nanking victory parade in the end, when the Japanese soldiers roar triumphantly in unison, it's pretty obvious that Kadokawa is screaming in agony. His own screams echo in his head later on, when he releases the prisoners and kills himself.
Only Sane Man: Subverted in a way. At first glance, to the viewers Kadokawa is the only sane person among the Japanese grunts. Then we have scenes of them hanging out, having a fun time, playing the piano and singing old-time love songs together...it's dissonant. Even stranger, and Truth in Television, is the fact that some of these soldiers went home after this horrendous war, to become shy and polite salarymen...
Redshirt Reporter: When the Japanese forces first entered the city of Nanking, they were accompanied by a reporter and his cameraman from the Asahi News Agency. The convoy was ambushed and almost entirely wiped out. However, it was still averted since the cameraman ended up being the only survivor and even managed to escape the ambush and sound the alarm, dooming the Chinese resistance in the city.
Sociopathic Soldier: Most of the Japanese soldiers, of the crazed Patriotic Fervor variety. It's downright eerie to watch these guys goofing around and cracking jokes together, when they're not being sadistic loons.
Soundtrack Dissonance: When Kadokawa, Ida, and the other men are singing nostalgic love ballads together, while the corpses of "comfort women", their lipstick still fresh, are dumped in piles and burned.