A journalist interviews an old woman who was forced into prostitution, just like many other Japanese women working in Asia outside of Japan during the first half of the 20th century. She worked in a Malaysian brothel called Sandakan 8.
Near a remote Buddhist monastery, a young man falls in love with his sister and gets her pregnant. After a monk finds out, the young man becomes an assistant to a master sculptor, only to proceed to complicate matters with his affairs.
This film involves the vivisection of American prisoners by the Japanese during WWII for the purpose of medical research. It is based on a brief and chilling novel by Shusaku Endo, and it is one of the best book-to-film adaptations I have ever seen. The story is told in flashbacks as various doctors and nurses involved are interrogated by the Americans. This structure differs from Endo's novel, but it works well. Each character reacts to what they've done differently. The stark black-and-white imagery and decaying, industrial look of the hospital brings to mind 'Eraserhead,' oddly enough. Kumai was able to bring the novel to life precisely as I had imagined it while reading it -- so well, in fact, it is uncanny. I felt as though I'd seen the film before, but realised I had only 'seen' the images in my head while reading the book. Although relentlessly bleak, this is an absolute masterpiece of a film, doing justice to a brilliant novel. 10/10.
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