April 07, 2006

THE EXTREME SIDE OF CINEMA; MEN BEHIND THE SUN (1987) REVIEW 10



‘The Extreme Side…’ section covers’ movies that will never see screen time in the United Kingdom, especially in their uncensored state, even in liberal times these films are total forbidden fruit.

Should the morals of society change even further and become less ‘uptight’ we may see this on these shores but I would imagine thoroughly truncated.


When I first stumbled upon this film, and was told it was a gory ‘war movie’ I hasten to add – that is all!, at intervals throughout the film I found my jaw dropping to the floor, I was about 17 and watched it on nth generation bootleg. This didn’t spoil my enjoyment of it though; if anything it added extra gruel. I will never forget the first time viewing it and it still manages to make me wince today, especially the cat sequence.

This notorious little sick puppy was also mistaken for a 'snuff' hybrid where ultra conservative moralists got their facts completely and utterly wrong in moments of uninformed hysteria. What twats they were, we can look back and laugh at such naieviety and sheer dumbness that made part of the 80's what they were.

The film plays as a catalogue of atrocity committed in one of several of Japans bacteriological/experimentation units on the outskirts of China in World War II. This intense and shocking experience has to be one of the most ‘extreme’ forms of cinema and the nearest one we'll get to a real pseudo documentary about the atrocities inflicted; mainly on the Russian military prisoners of war and selected Chinese ‘guinea pig’ villagers from nearby.


To understand the movie we need to look at history and return to one of Japans blackest periods , this is a little known ‘don’t mention’ that the Japanese have been trying to ‘shoosh’ for ages, I feel it should never be forgotten and is just as imperative to know about as much as The Holocaust.

Appalling it was, but dare I say , morbidly fascinating also. Evidence that only humans could sink this low factually.

The most uncomfortable thing about M.B.T.S is the film is all based on fact. What we witness actually took place, the diabolical methods used for these experimentations are mentioned in our history lesson of UNIT 731………..

A TINY HISTORY LESSON

UNIT 731 was a germ warfare research centre created by the Imperial Japanese Army and was built on mainland China. These were the brain children of micro-biologist Ishii Shiro. Ishii built the Zhongma Fortress in 1932, in 1935 a jail outbreak forced him to shut it down, he relocated to Ping fan where he created his new facility - in 1936 UNIT 731 was a reality.


This wasn’t the only research complex; several were erected around China all striving to achieve the self same thing, a safeguard for Japan via biological and germ warfare.

At UNIT 731, disguised initially as a water treating establishment, unfortunate Chinese and Russian prisoners of war were used in cruel medical experimentation. The majority were captured during the Sino- Japanese war but according to various sources many Chinese men, woman and infants were farmed in from the nearby rural villages. These were referred to by the inhabitants of UNIT 731 as ‘Maruta’ (blocks of wood)

The only reference to western people undergoing vivisection on Japanese territory happened when a B-29 bomber was knocked down in Southern Japan on May 5, 1945. The crew were taken to Kyushu Imperial University where they were dissected , there organs removed one by one, whilst still alive. This was the only known instance of Americans being used for research and the only time this was ever carried out within Japan.

The germ-warfare programme began in Japan in the early 1930’s this was due to the banning of germ warfare by the Geneva Protocol of 1925. The banning made the Japanese military rationale that if there was something so powerful and so deadly that caused the ban in the first place, why shouldn’t it be investigated and developed for the welfare and protection of the Japanese state.


Although germ warfare is an abomination in its own right, what is just as harrowing are the vivisections that were carried out. These all took place without any form of anaesthetic; the disease was administered to the victim and then after a period of time the internal organs were extracted and studied. Nothing was used to render the person unconscious and they usually died in sheer agony.

Female prisoners were impregnated by the resident doctors at the establishment, the unborn would then be removed and along with the mother would be vivisected and studied for effects and progress of disease. There again no anaesthetic was used, the surgeons believed that such drugs could impair research findings and may produce false results.



Human blood was removed and replaced with animal to see the effect. Sea water was injected into the bloodstream to see if it could become a saline substitution, air bubbles were injected to emulate strokes. Starvation took place to study the bodies’ integrity and lifespan when without food or water. Prisoners were placed in centrifuges and revolved until haemorrhage, arms, hands and legs were frozen then amputated, burns were inflicted as well as pressure experiments usually resulting in a long protracted death for the victim.


Arms were cut off and placed on opposite sides, bombs and grenades were tied to prisoners to measure range effects, people were exposed to severely high x-rays to register the results. Plague, cholera, botulism and anthrax were all used in creating flea bombs. The bombs, which had a porcelain shell, could be dropped on areas to easily spread infection. Rural Chinese villages and communities were used for this; the length of time the disease took to spread and its’ effects were duly monitored.


Small village water supplies and ponds were also infected with disease to test the spread of a plague throughout the area. It has been estimated that between 4-10,000 men, women and children were used in these hideous experiments. Approximately 20,000 villagers died of biological warfare related infection courtesy of the unit as well.

In areas of
China unoccupied by the Japanese food parcels contaminated with botulism and dysentery were dropped and agriculture infection were carried out for scientific research for country and emperor.


It is also known that Prince Mikasa once toured around UNIT 731 and was shown ‘films of prisoners marched off for gas experiments’ as noted in his memoirs.

Premier Tojo also awarded Ishii with an award for his bacteria weapon research.

At the end of the Second World War attempts were made to destroy these hideous legacies, fortunately it was unsuccessful. Enough evidence existed that lead to the opening of a memorial museum in Japan and compensation for the relatives of the victims.

The perpetrators of these crimes were let off as long as they handed all the experiment research project findings to the Americans. The states believed that this would push them further than the Russians in germ warfare development.


Even recently containers of deadly chemicals are being re-discovered on Chinese development sites where such camps had existed.

One of the largest cover ups along with;’The Rape of Nanking’ that must never happen again…….


THE PLOT



1944/1945 and the Japanese are doing all they can to stave off the impending allied victory. UNIT 731 in Manchuria has been the intense focus of the military as germ warfare is being seriously considered as a last resort.

Dr Shiro Ishii returns to his camp with seven new recruits. The recruits are seven young boys of teenage years due to the lack of older persons available. These are collectively known as the Youth Corps.


Ishii intends to bring the glory back to a failing Japan with his technical and biological skill. Any moral concerns he has have been put aside for his work to be effective.


The soldiers go about their business and carry out their merciless duties on the new guinea pigs. A mother has her child snatched away from her and watches in horror as it’s buried in the snow to suffocate. She is then taken to a freezing outland where water is ladled over her bare forearms and hands. Every now and again we check up the victim and her progression of decay. The flesh changes varied colours throughout the experiment as the frostbite takes a grip turning from pink, to purple , to green , to black in the latter stages.


As the soldiers are undergoing their ‘desensitivity’ training they are informed that the guinea pigs are the lowest of the low and are referred to as ‘Maruta’ – blocks of wood, nothing more or nothing less and ripe for the scalpel.


The woman of the ice experiment is ushered into a room full of the trainee troops, her hands are plunged into boiling water the woman becomes hysterical in pain. The Doctor removes her hands and rips the flesh and muscle - they slide off like elbow length gloves from the woman. Her exposed rotten fat , boiled bone and dead sinew left where her arms used to be .

A man is lead in and his hands are frozen solid, he then has his fingers smashed to bits screaming in frenzy often associated with the asiatic movie gross- out death.


A man is then thrown into a pressure chamber as the pressure increases so the thin gentlemen begins to sweat and swell until ‘POP’ his colon , faeces and intestinal tract expel throughout his anus onto the chamber floor.

We witness gassings, a visit to the unit crematorium where the old man in charge has gone completely off his head, drinks to numb the pain and sings pissed songs from a tortured memory. There is despair everywhere!

The shocking ‘live’ vivisection of an adolescent boy really is the ultimate and more than likely any movie has gone too for realism.


Inmates are tied to crosses in a huge field then huge explosions are detonated around them at various ranges, the smoke clears and we witness the aftermath of the explosions. Eyes have been blown out of sockets, faces have been partially melted and limbs scattered about as seed is by farmers.

The final instances focus on the inmate ‘uprising’ and eventual escape as pandemonium breaks out within the camp on its last days , this is after we see the allegory filmed before , a live cat thrown into a pit of thousands of hungry rats. We witness unflinchingly, for what seems an eternity, the cat being torn to pieces and devoured partially alive.


The film concludes, as expected by now, on a cold, dark and foreboding note.

CRITIC

Fuck! – What a movie this is. T.F Mou shows us as it was, there is nothing ‘exceptional’ about his direction but it is a major contributor as to why we become entranced in all of this. A pure warts and all exposure of unbelievable inhumanity.

Men Behind the Sun is more powerful than Schindlers List ‘sympathy out of misery’ technique. It’s moviemaking at a nasty, grubby, exploititative level. The early gross out scenes which due to their shock impetus have made this a cult movie, are indeed effectively achieved.


Although we know its sfx because it’s based on historic fact this makes it most uncomfortable to view – I felt the same as I would if I witnessed footage of gas chamber annihilation, rumoured also to exist.

The chamber sequence was achieved by real human, dummy and offal, and contrary to popular belief is not real, just clever and disturbing cinematography.

The more ‘controversial and ‘disturbing’ aspect was the use of a real young adolescent boy for the autopsy scene. This was achieved with effective cutting of sequences. The ‘real’ child’s’ body was used with the parents consent and the coroners were willing to ‘dress up’ as they carried out the procedure before the cameras. The beating heart was achieved via a pump attached to a prosthetic that gives us the impression that the organ was still functioning at the time of vivisection.


The most notorious and really uncalled for piece of gruel is the destruction of the live cat. I understand that it symbolises the Chinese uprising (the mice) against the ruthless perpetrator (the cat); or a parallel from where the youth corps bash and beat an adult guard, but with this aside I couldn't help wonder why further special effects were not used. Obviously the talent is already there and has been demonstrated with previous gruesome instalments so to use the torture of an animal is quite harsh.


Men Behind the Sun seems to fall into varying camps as to what it actually is and whether it is actually liked or not. It seems to me to fall into a ‘grey area’ where it pushes towards exploitation and sensationalism and pulls towards ‘cautionary ‘short, sharp, shock’ warning’. I truly believe it is subjective to the viewer.

Not all the Japanese are portrayed as purely evil; there are some humanistic moments between the youth corps as they come to terms with their own fate as well as their country.

The voyeuristic harshness towards the victims is also replicated in direction, as the victims name, age, place of origin are superimposed over the unfortunates ‘death throws’ .


Whether your view on this and conclusion is that this is a ‘cult’ classic reflecting on human behaviour in one of Japans bleakest periods, or as an unpleasant propaganda vehicle- it will be a revelation- and should be sensibly approached as such.

Rumour has it that this film was funded by the Chinese government, this is an alleged statement as I do not recall this being denied or agreed upon in any article I have seen about the film.


Commercially this achieved high revenue at the Chinese box office and was considered successful enough for two sequels, the shoddily inferior ‘Men behind the Sun pt. 2; Laboratory of the Devil’ and ‘Men Behind the Sun pt.3; Narrow Escape’. Where the original used the pseudo-documentary style of film making the second and third opted for more sophistication which didn't seem to 'gel' in my opinion.

Tun Fei Mou did return behind the camera for ‘Men Behind the Sun 4; Black Sun –The Nanking Massacre’, this shifted the horrors from the concentration camp to the massacre of Chinese villages and the fate of its inhabitants.


Some movies are powerful and they leave an impact in the mind long after the last frame has faded - this film is one example of such.

Watch with caution………………………………………..


I am known as ; Men Behind the Sun / Man Behind the Sun/ Hei tai yang 731 / Squadron 731

My Relations; Ilsa She Wolf of the SS (1974), Men Behind the Sun 2 - Laboratory of the Devil (1992), Men Behind the Sun 3 - The Narrow Escape(1994), Men Behind the Sun 4 - Black Sun ; The Nanking Massacre (1995), Womans Camp 119(1977).

The players; Hsu Gou, Gang Wang, Andrew Yu

The year; 1987/1988

The country; Hong Kong





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