During the Japanese occupation of China, two prisoners are dumped in a peasant's home in a small town. The owner is bullied into keeping the prisoners until the next New Year, at which time...
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During the Japanese occupation of China, two prisoners are dumped in a peasant's home in a small town. The owner is bullied into keeping the prisoners until the next New Year, at which time they will be collected. The village leaders convene to interrogate the prisoners. The townspeople then struggle to accommodate the prisoners. One is a bellicose Japanese nationalist, the other a nervous translator. Will the townspeople manage to keep the prisoners until the New Year? Written by
Ken Miller <email@example.com>
An excellent film- but with a dark propaganda message beneath it
I will agree with my fellow reviewers that this is indeed a very well-made film. It is well-shot, well-acted, thoroughly moving and at times amusing. The way it lulls the audience into a false sense of security is very skillful, and I was genuinely speechless and rooted in place when the climactic, but not final, scene came along. This is something that despite watching countless films, I am not accustomed to.
HOWEVER, I am absolutely astounded that nobody else has read this as a horribly dehumanising account of the Japanese. Before anybody starts saying that the Japanese army in WWII committed some horrific atrocities, I know this full well. However, it is the way that this film goes about portraying this message will truly disturbs me in a fashion that is cinematically brilliant and all the more worrying for that reason.
The Japanese soldier who is captured by the villagers is well-crafted. To begin with, he is understandably somewhat uncooperative with his captors. However, over time his human side comes out in often comic fashion, and we begin to develop some kind of sympathy for him and feel that he has come to develop sympathy for his captors. Unfortunately, this is all utterly shattered later. Likewise, the Japanese general initially impresses us with his sense of honour despite his fierce nature. Again he is set up as somebody who has developed some kind of sympathy for the villagers and has acted honourably. But, without spoiling the latter part of the film, he then completely derails any such thoughts and proves that, deep down, he is a completely evil swine. His logic for his acts is utterly ludicrous, and demonises the Japanese. This film is let down by the fact that it portrays the Japanese as pure evil. It suggests that even when they seem nice on the outside, they are still backstabbing devils.
I understand that the Chinese are very bitter, and rightfully so, for the atrocities committed against them by the Japanese during WWII. And I don't blame them whatsoever for showing this side of the Japanese army. After all, our own cinema has repeatedly and rightly depicted the Nazis as evil. However, what concerns me is the total lack of any of the Japanese characters coming out as in any way good people. They all, to a man, come out as barbarians. The biggest missed opportunity was for the captured soldier to refuse his order near the end and die honourably. But no. Even films about the Nazis that are as harrowing as Schindler's List have Germans we can be sympathetic with. Devils on the Doorstep, sadly, only creates a veneer of decency around some of the Japanese characters, whilst using this as an effective tool to deride their 'true nature'.
I found this film very disturbing and disappointing for this reason. But, as I say, it is very well-made, and well worth watching. I just hope that viewers don't fall prey to the message beneath, and that the film has not done too much damage to already tense race relations between the Chinese and Japanese. If I had not found the film so inherently racist, I would have awarded it 8 out of 10 (I'm a harsh marker), perhaps even nine. But it will have to be a 7.
Oh, and I'm confused by a previous review which claims the film is too long for the subject matter. Too long for a story about a war?!? I personally never felt it was too long.
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