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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. Apparently, doing a movie depicting the Japanese as 90% pure evil instead of 100% can be a very controversial thing.

All the characters in this movie were real people, FYI.

Has been compared to Schindler's List, because of big similarities. Only this one is even more depressing...

Tropes used in City of Life and Death include:

  • Anyone Can Die
  • 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. Xiaojiang Ms. Jiang May, all the girls raped (not a spoiler, this is the RAPE of Nanking after all...)
  • But Not Too Evil: Or rather, Not Evil Enough. As noted, the film was nearly Banned in China for being too sympathetic to the Japanese, believe it or not.
  • Child Soldiers: The ten-year-old Xiao. Thanks to Kadokawa, he survives and is still alive today.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Kadokawa.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Mrs. Jiang.
  • Deliberately Monochrome
  • Despair Event Horizon: Oh, where to begin? Notably, Kadokawa commits suicide out of guilt.
  • 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 Nanjing - of course it's a one-note symphony.
  • Driven to Suicide: Kadokawa.
  • Ensemble Cast: Lu, Mrs. Jiang, Mr. Tang, and Kadokawa could all be considered protagonists.
  • 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.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Yuriko.
  • IKEA Erotica: A rare movie example: the scene where Kadokawa has sex with Yuriko. The sex is dispassionate, in the missionary position, and dead silent, but for the loud creaking noises from the bed.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted. With Extreme Prejudice. Several schoolgirls are raped, the children hiding in a confessional are gunned down, and Tang's daughter is flung out of a window.
  • It Got Worse
  • Jittercam: Used during the chaotic Urban Warfare scenes.
  • Karma Houdini: Commander Ida. The closing credits say it all: "Osamu Ida, 1900 - 1979".
  • Katanas of the Rising Sun: The villains of this story, given the film is Chinese.
  • Kill'Em All
  • 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.
  • Lighter and Softer: Than the Nanking Massacre in Real Life. As incredible as it sounds, the atrocities of the Japanese Army are actually downplayed in this movie.
  • Hachimaki: Some of the Japanese wear them.
  • 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'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...
  • Rape as Drama: Happens to almost every female character.
  • Rape, Pillage and Burn: Emphasis on rape. This film is not pretty.
  • Red Shirt Reporter: When the Japanese forces first entered the city of Nanjing, 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.
  • Screw The Rules, I'm A Nazi: Rabe is allowed to set up the Safety Zone for civilians because of his connections to Nazi Germany.
  • Second Sino-Japanese War
  • Sex Slave: Those who are forced to become "comfort women". Only the scene where they volunteer is heartbreaking.
  • Shoot the Dog: Kadokawa kills Mrs. Jiang with a bullet to the head, in order to spare her getting gang-raped to death.
  • Shout-Out: The bleak Deliberately Monochrome footage was meant as a homage to Schindler's List.
  • 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.
  • Team Mom: Mrs. Jiang again.
  • Unsafe Haven: The Safety Zone in Nanking. By the end, the Japanese don't even bother get "search warrants" to go in there for rape and pillage. The zone was abolished the following year.
  • Villains Out Shopping: The Japanese soldiers were shown doing totally normal things such as talking about now much they miss home, or just singing and relaxing together.
  • War Is Hell
  • Would Hurt a Child: Oh, yes, the Japanese would. Especially, Commander Ida.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Just when you thought Mr. Tang and his wife were actually getting out of Nanking...
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