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Film / Men Behind the Sun

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The director T.F. Mou subtly presents the message of the film.

One of the most disturbing films to ever come out of Eastern Asia.

Released in 1988, Men Behind the Sun (Hei tai yang 731, The Black Sun Unit 731 in native Hong Kong) is a film about the Imperial Japanese Army's Unit 731, which during World War II conducted medical research and biological/chemical weapon experiments on captive human subjects. The film details many of the experiments carried out by the unit, and also follows a group of recruits to the unit's Youth Corps.

Men Behind the Sun is supposed to be a rather horrifyingly accurate depiction of Unit 731's activities in real life. However, the director based it on a fictional novel serialized in a Japanese Communist Party newspaper of questionable quality, to which can be traced the origins of many dubious facts regarding the Unit, as well as confusing the activities of Unit 100 with Unit 731. Whether the film is a cheap and horrific Exploitation Film or a valid commentary on the behavior of the Imperial Japanese Army is debated. Either way, it's guaranteed to utterly ruin your day.


This film provides examples of:

  • Adult Fear: The gas chamber experiment featuring a mother begging for her child not to be harmed as they're both gassed to death.
  • Based on a True Story: Most or all of the experiments depicted actually took place, as did most of the historical background.
  • Big Bad: Dr. Shiro Ishii, Lieutenant General of Unit 731.
  • Body Horror: The film features electrocutions, bloody beatings, dismemberment, rotting corpses, frozen limbs being broken off, severe frostbite, gassings, disembowelment, burning corpses, and to top it all off an autopsy on a real child's cadaver.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: One of the marutas scrawls a condemnation of his captors on the wall of his cell in his own blood when they're all gassed to death.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The guy in the pressure chamber.
  • Cyanide Pill: In a bottle this time, given to all the important personnel to use if they were captured.
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  • Dehumanization: The guards and scientists refer to the inmates as marutas, which translates as logs from Japanese.
  • Downer Ending: After Japan is defeated, Ishii orders the prisoners gassed and the experiments destroyed. He then swears the rest of the unit to secrecy under pain of death. Ishii is captured by the Americans, and works for them, introducing biological weapons to Korea. While Ishii dies free, the rest of Unit 731 live lives of drudgery due to their education not being acknowledged by society.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Shiro Ishii, especially when he demonstrates his idea for a new bacterial bomb.
  • Exploitation Film: Unintentional, but is regarded as such by some.
  • For Science!: War or not, this was the justification for many researchers.
  • Gas Mask Mooks: Many soldiers wear these when dealing with the prisoners or hazardous materials.
  • Gorn: Of all kinds, including a real child's cadaver cut open on film.
  • Harmless Freezing: Averted. One woman's arms are slowly frozen by having cold water poured over them while outside in freezing temperatures only to have them soaked in warm water, allowing the skin to be pulled right off down to the bone.
    • Another man had his arms put in a flash freeze chamber and had his frozen fingers beaten off with a pipe.
  • Hazmat Suit: Worn by almost everyone while around the lab and the many hazardous materials and diseases they were working on.
  • Hell Hole Prison: The inmates inside the facility were kept alive and healthy enough to be beaten, poisoned, infected, blown up, shot, frozen, burned, or subjected to whatever other horrors the researchers came up with.
  • Karma Houdini: As the film points out, Ishii and most of his men escaped judgment after the war.
  • Kick the Dog: Except it's not a dog, it's a cat. And it's not kicked, it's eaten alive by rats. Also, the mute child is either kicked or shot, depending on one's view of the scientific value of the act.
  • Kill It with Fire: Unit 731's rat colony is disposed of with fire at the end. The live rats were actually set on fire for this scene.
  • Leave No Survivors: When Japan surrenders and Unit 731 is ordered to disband they kill all the marutas in the prison.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: At one point, the cadets stationed at Unit-731 assemble a large amount of artillery shells in the middle of a field, around a large number of marutas. The aftermath of the experiment shows what happens to anyone caught in the middle of an artillery barrage.
  • Mad Doctor: All the medical professionals there due to the sheer level of atrocities they commit in the name of research.
  • Mad Scientist: The ultimate goal of Unit 731 and Ishii was to create a version of the Bubonic Plague that could turn the tide of the war.
  • Medical Horror: The Movie.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: And how.
  • No Animals Were Harmed: Played straight with the infamous scene of the cat being devoured by rats; it was red-dyed honey and the cat was rewarded with fish before being sent home to its owner.
    • Averted with the rats themselves, which were actually set on fire. No word either way on the gas chamber dove.
  • Obligatory War Crime Scene: More like scenes. This film would arguably make Call of Duty: World at War look like a Nintendo game.
  • Please, I Will Do Anything!: Invoked word-for-word by a mother who was being locked in a gas chamber with her daughter.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The image at the top comes from a scene at the end in which someone attacks Ishii and the other 731 leaders for their crimes. The attacker is stabbed with a flag pole. This unlikely weapon is used primarily so that we can see the Japanese flag soiled with blood.
  • Sequel Decay: The film was followed by several sequels, none of which were anywhere near as shocking as the original.
  • Slow Clap: When Ishii demonstrates his low-temperature bacterial bomb, although it quickly turns into loud applause.
  • The Sociopath: Dr. Shiro Ishii, who has wormed his way back into commanding Unit 731 despite being demoted for corruption prior. After taking command, he turns the unit into a nightmarish group of torturers, conducting medical experiments for his own advancement. And it is solely for his own advancement, as his sending subordinates to die because they know of his prior corruption shows.
  • Strapped to an Operating Table: Subverted as the child willingly got on the table because he was completely clueless to what they were going to do. Eventually he was knocked out before the surgery began so he wasn't able to resist.
  • The Speechless: A mute child serves as an excellent dog for kicking.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Several are killed brutally over the course of the film. The soldiers seem to go out of their way to do it.


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