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黑太陽731 (1988)
Men Behind the Sun

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 10/09/2010

For years, Men Behind the Sun has developed quite a reputation among Hong Kong movie fans. Director Mau Dui-Fai's (aka T.F. Mous) use of actual autopsy footage and the maiming of a real cat have caused many to label the film as gross exploitation. However, if one steps past the gore (and the somewhat questionable ethics used in obtaining the footage) the film registers -- at least to this viewer -- as one of the more powerful war movies ever created.

Based on true events, the film takes place near the end of World War II in a Japanese prison camp simply known as 731. The camp is run by General Ishii, who sees chemical weapons as Japan's key to winning the war, and will stop at nothing to create the perfect weapon. Ishii uses the Chinese prisioners (called "maruta" or material) in a series of sickening experiments, while a group of teenage soldiers known as the Youth Corps try to come to terms with the place that they now call home.

The plot isn't very dense, but Mau manages to create a set of well-rounded characters. Even General Ishii (even though he is undeniably more than a bit insane) doesn't come off as a total devil, and many of the characters -- especially the kids in the Youth Corps -- come off as fairly sympathetic. Mau notes in an interview included on the DVD that Men Behind the Sun is not an exploitation film, and I would agree. The expliotation genre takes glee in presenting over-the-top sex and violence, and this movie is an undeniably grim look at one of one of the darker points in the bloodiest conflict the world has ever seen.

I will grant that Men Behind the Sun does seem to go a bit overboard in parts, especially one scene where a man in put into a decompression chamber until his intestines shoot out his anus. But overall, it really gets its' point across. Even though I have seen many films with more blood and guts, rarely have I been so shocked. Men Behind the Sun is one of those rare pictures that will keep you thinking about it long after it ends. If you have a strong stomach, I highly recommend this film. Even if you don't, it's still worth a viewing, since it brings to attention one area of history most Westerners don't know much about.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Gaijin84
Date: 10/22/2006
Summary: Beyond disturbing yet well presented...

Men Behind the Sun tells the horrific story of Japanese prisoner camp 731 which doubled as a chemical warfare lab during World War II. Within this camp, the use of live humans in experimental weapons testing is witnessed by a group of teenage Japanese who have been sent there for training. Their experiences within the camp basically provide the framework for the director with which he can show repulsive acts of torture and brutality. When the young soldiers are first brought to the camp, they are forced to look at the Chinese and Russian prisoners as "maruta," which means kindling, or firewood. Basically, an inanimate object that provides use to others. In a separate plot line, the camp is being returned to the control of Lieutenant General Shiro Ishii, the head of chemical weapons experimentation in Japan. He can sense that the war is turning against Japan and is desperate to come up with the ultimate weapon that will turn the tide in his emperor's favor.

I went into Men Behind the Sun with a lot of pre-existing notions on how disgusting it was going to be. I had read reviews that said that it was one of the most vile films people had ever seen and ranked up there with “Cannibal Holocaust” as the most disturbing movie of all time. Needless to say I was not looking forward to the experience, but I wanted to form my own opinion. Before I get to the experiment scenes, I'll say that the acting and directing is really quite good. The teenage soldiers are likable and you can see the conflict they are going through with what they are witnessing. They have undying allegiance to their emperor, but the acts performed on the prisoners are those that no one should have to bear. The adults in the film however, save for one or two, are completely committed to their jobs and carry out their experiments with not a single moment of moral clarity. The experiments they perform on people range from the quick and relatively painless to drawn out horrors that are difficult to watch. One woman has her arms tied down to a block of wood while soldiers pour ice water over her bare arms. It being winter, her arms eventually develop severe frost bite and are virtually useless. They lead her inside where she is told to place her arms in near-boiling water. When she removes them the doctors grabs her forearms and literally rips the flesh from her bones and leaves it hanging in strips from her fingers. Another prisoner is forced to have his hands flash frozen after which his fingers are shattered into fragments with a hammer. There is also an actual autopsy performed on a child's body that is extremely tough to watch. However, the worst scene involves a naked prisoner thrown into a pressure chamber. I won't describe what happens, but suffice to say it was by far the most disturbing thing I've ever seen in a movie. There is also a scenes where a live cat is thrown into a pit of rats. I read many people's thoughts on this scene and the contention that this was real, but I have to disagree. Although it is well edited, there are many factors that lead me to believe that the scene is faked. What is seemingly not faked is later when the rats are doused with gasoline and set on fire, causing them to scurry in every direction screeching in pain.

The director stated in an interview (a written version is included on the DVD) that he wanted to make people aware of the horrors that the Japanese army committed during the war, especially on the Chinese. If that was his plan, he certainly succeeded. This is not a film that you are likely to forget anytime soon, not only because of the horrendous scenes you witness but also because of the realization that this and other horrible acts really occurred during the Japanese occupation of northeastern China.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: Chungking_Cash
Date: 01/28/2003

Director Mau Dui-fai doesn't just cross the line of taste -- he flies over it like a Boeing 747 at 567 mph and while that may be the point for some audiences others will feel like they've been taken for a ride.

Based on fact, "Men Behind the Sun" examines specific crimes against humanity inside the walls of Unit 731, Japan's Auschwitz of biological research located in occupied Harbin [Northeast China], during the Second World War. The populace of territories that fell under The Rising Sun made for convenient guinea pigs which the Japanese dubbed marata (kindling). Inmates of the camp found themselves subjected to crude experimentation to help scientists measure the effects of every thing from climate change and decompression to the effectiveness of ammunition, bayonets, and explosives.

Originally conceived as a documentary Mau discovered while researching the subject that the Japanese had destroyed nearly every shred of hard evidence on celluloid that tied them to the death camp (Unit 731's hasty implosion not withstanding, which opens the film).

Mau compensates by loosing his testicles and having a ball exploiting the misery of the camp's subjects as some kind of heir apparent to Hershell Gordon Lewis.

Those in search of educational merit would be better off tracking down The History Channel documentary "The Horror of Unit 731" or dedicating an afternoon to the subject on Wikipedia.

Reviewer Score: 5

Reviewed by: hellboy
Date: 08/30/2000

This could have been a very good movie considering the dramatic elements of it. It focuses on a young group of Japanese recently transferred who are to be trained by the older soldiers of the camp. They are commanded to beat a Chinese peasant to death with sticks and call the Chinese "kindling" in order in order to dehumanize the Chinese. Unfortunately the narrative would have served it's pupose much better by having all the exploitative parts cut from it. The film has become well known for it's gristly effects which is more the pity because it's a very intelligent, disturbing story. I can't wholeheartedly recommend it though because animals were hurt to film it.

Reviewed by: spinali
Date: 12/08/1999
Summary: NULL

Apparently based on declassified documents from WW2, thisjaw-dropper dramatizes the atrocities of Manchu Squadron 731, a top-secret Japanese plan to develop bacteriological weapons. General Ishii presides over the carnage, which was responsible for the deaths of over three-thousand Chinese, Koreans, and Vietnamese guinea pigs. As researchers near implementation of their plague missiles, the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki seal their fate, and the project is brushed into one of the darker corners of 20th century history. Among the nastiness: one man's arms are plunged into liquid nitrogen and broken like china; a child is smothered in the snow, and then his mother becomes the victim of a frostbite experiment in which the flesh of her forearms are rolled back like chicken skin; and they operate on a pre-pubescent child -- while he's alive -- for his pristine heart and liver. The most disturbing scenes involve real animals. A living cat is ripped apart by a sea of lab mice; then the mice are dowsed with gasoline, set afire, and become a mass of scampering torches. Do you catch a moral irony here or is it just me?


[Reviewed by Steve Spinali]

Reviewer Score: 6