Monday, 8 September 2014

Gorefest - Men Behind The Sun (1988)

If you didn't already know, World War 2 wasn't the most pleasant of times to live in, for every rendition of "We'll Meet Again", there are 10 examples of people being torn limb from limb, for no better reason other than someone just felt like doing it. War is a horrible thing, where the morals of man take second place to violent gratification.

Men Behind The Sun tells the undeniably true story of once such instance of morals becoming fluid during wartime.

Released in 1988, this Hong Kong/Chinese co production tells, albeit in abridged and, surprisingly, sanitised form, the story of Unit 731, one of many special military units formed during World War 2 and tasked with finding better ways to kill people.

The film itself caused some controversy on its release, with the Japanese government protesting to the Chinese government about the film, saying that it represented both an embellishment and an unrealistic portrayal of events, however the film makers refused to listen to the protests, stating that "history is history", part of a quote which is cited at the beginning of the film.

The story itself follows a group of young Japanese military recruits, all of whom have been conscripted into the army youth corps and seconded to field studies with Unit 731, a top secret unit based in the captured territory of Manchuria on the Chinese mainland.
Another subplot runs parallel to the main one showing the problems that the camps commanding officer, Shiro Ishii has upon returning to the command he was previously stripped of, due to other ambitious officers telling tales behind his back.

On their first day, all the boys are sworn to secrecy, and are introduced to the camps real work ("officially", the camp is a logging camp, which doubles as a field hospital) which focuses on finding a way to manufacture a strain of bubonic plague that is much more deadly than normal strains, and then finding a method of delivering it to a target effectively. To this end, prisoners, referred to as "logs" in keeping with the cover story that the camp is used as a lumber mill (historical note - experimental units such as Unit 731 also used other names for prisoners, such as "monkeys", firstly to cover up how many people had been killed in experiments, but also to fulfil the cultural mindset of being discourteous to an enemy that had allowed itself to be captured).

Over the course of the film, various experiments on humans are shown, ranging from experiments where peoples flesh is frozen to test possible treatments for frostbite, to vivisections on live humans (One such scene caused outrage as it appeared to be footage from a real autopsy, however it was later proven to be very good and convincing special effects) , and to people being injected with infected blood in order to stockpile the deadly strain of bubonic plague they are tasked with creating.

The film itself consists of various scenes showing atrocities, strung together with the developing plot and the passage of time showing the run up to the end of the war in the pacific, with the group of conscript boys either embracing the horror, or becoming sickened by it.
The film is very well made, however the subject matter and scenes of depravity depicted on screen are very disturbing, so those who find that sort of thing distasteful should definitely not view this film, being as that no punches are pulled in the film, and, as it so often plays out in real life, the "bad guys" do not receive a comeuppance in some ironic manner, nor at any time do any of the main "bad guys" show any kind of emotion or remorse for anything that they do, no matter how gruesome or depraved.

This is a good film, and an often ignored part of world history, especially where world war 2 is concerned as most "atrocities" are usually linked with the Nazis treatment of people in Europe.

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