City of Life and Death

City of Life and Death , directed by Lu Chuan, 2009, China

Lu Jianxiong 陆剑雄, A military commander in the Nationalist Army who, during the Nanjing massacre in 1938, is killed along with close to three hundred thousand Chinese slaughtered by the Japanese invading army; he and his men put up a heroic fight and a losing battle against the advancing Japanese troops much superior in military equipment; unlike their superior officers who run away without a fight, Lu and his men decide to resist the Japanese invasion and fire upon the enemy until they are captured, outgunned and outnumbered; he is one of many that fell in the historical battle to defend Nanjing, which was then the capital of China after Beijing and Shanghai had fallen to the Japanese; after the city fell in December 13, 1937, six weeks of senseless massacre of the Chinese soldiers and innocent civilians took place; it is estimated that about 20,000 Chinese women were raped;

John Rabe 拉贝 (1882-1950)A German businessman and also a member of the Nazy Party who, at the time of Japanese occupation of Nanjing, was trying to stop the war atrocities by chairing the international committee of Nanjing Safety Zone, along with American and European missionaries and businessmen that tried to offer shelter to Chinese refugees; leaves the city when ordered by Berlin and feels he has let the refugees down whose lives depend on him staying in the safety zone;

Jiang Shuyun, 姜淑云, A church school teacher and works closely with John Rabe to provide food and shelter to Chinese citizens living in Nanjing; her efforts to resist every Japanese demand enrages the occupying force; after found cheating to get more Chinese civilians out of the death camp, she is no longer tolerated as a pacifist (after Rabe’s departure) and non-combatant; spared of raped and public execution when a Japanese soldier kills her as an act of mercy killing

Tang Wenxiang 唐文祥 Mr. Rabe’s translator, able to speak Japanese and Germ an; he is a complex figure in the film; after his daughter and sister (a Shanghai opera singer) are killed by the Japanese, he goes through personal transformation from a coward who’d save his own life by telling the Japanese that there are wounded Chinese soldiers inside the International Safety Zone to a selfless martyr who gives his chance to life to his co-translator and chooses to be executed in his place;

Yuriko 百合子, one of Japanese comfort women that provide the troops with sex service, for which she receives more money than Chinese or Korean comfort women; she dies of malnutrition, starvation and sexually transmitted diseases; 



Kadokawa, 角川正雄, a sergeant in the Japanese army, able to speak some English because as a small boy he attended church school, which gives him enough education to be self-reflective and have a moral conscience; loses his virginity to Yuriko whom he later refers to as his wife; he also loses his innocence and finally his sanity as the war goes on and incurs more senseless killing; so homesick and dehumanized by the barbarity of the war, he one day commits suicide to end his war within, because to him, “life is harder than death;” 

Shunzi, 顺子one of the men that fight along with Lu Jianxiong when the city falls to the Japanese; survives the slaughter with his son and hide in the international safety zone where, after Mr, Rabe and his staff leave, he is captured again by the Japanese when recognized as a Chinese soldier; when about to be executed, he is set free by Kadokawa who then shoots himself; his son is Douzi, probably the youngest soldier in the resistence; Douzi also joins the battle to defend the city of Nanjing; captured with the rest of the fighting men and his father; but just like his father he also survives the massacre;

Xiao Douzi, 小豆子

Xiao Jiang : 小江a Chinese prostitute who also happens to be in the refugeee camp; initially with little to no intention to resist the Japanese and refuses to cut her beautifal hair when told to to minimize the chance of rape; feels secure because of her confidence in her body and female beauty; realizes evil and brutality once she is raped, which also wakes her up as a Chinese patriot; she volunteers herself, along with other women, to “entertain” the Japanese troops in return for food and safety as promised to the refugee camp, the kind of self-sacrifice women often do to give protection to others;

Japanese Sergeant, 伊田修, Kadokawa’s superior, responsible for many war crimes and atrocities after his troop enter into Nanjing; like Kadokawa driven to suicide by the insanity of the war, he is also a twisted human being trying to keep a strait face and a clear conscience as he rapes and kills with his men;

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