Screening on Friday 23 April at 9 pm in ACMI, Sunday 16 May 4pm, Friday 21 May 9pm

Not strictly a combat film, this Chinese production about Japanese war atrocities carried out in the name of scientific research is a confronting and at times sickening experience. With Man Behind the Sun (aka. Men Behind the Sun), Taiwanese director T.F. Mou (Mou Tun Fei)  has documented a grisly chapter in modern Asian history.

In a desperate attempt to turn the tide of World War 2, Japan's government demanded that deadly bacteria be developed and used against enemy ground troops. A top-secret military installation in Manchuria had been working on this for years, carrying out experiments on animals. In early 1945, General Shiro Ishi is sent to Camp 731 to speed this research along and to authorise the use of Chinese prisoners in future experiments.

These human guinea pigs are dubbed "maruta" - a type of firewood - something to be used and discarded.

General Ishi is depicted as a political opportunist and sadist. His depraved "medical" experiments of people being exploded in decompression chambers and prisoners having frozen limbs hacked off are seen as possessing little scientific value. Ishi's kowtowing team of doctors is led by the demented Tamamura, whose prized collection is a laboratory stacked with beakers full of body parts.

What separates Man Behind the Sun from the exploitation films of Ilsa and her ilk (Ilsa, She Wolf of the S. S., Elsa, Fraulein of the S.S.) are the high production values and the historical credibility it creates. Many of the experiments / atrocities are documented with names and dates. A sense of place is also developed, no matter how ghoulish the location may be i.e. a stark subtitle reads: Tunnel connecting pathology room to crematorium. You won't find the warm fuzzy claim that no animals were harmed during the making of this film, as one of the most stomach churning scenes has a cat being torn to pieces by a room full of starving rats.

There is a minor effort made to cast some Japanese in a more humane light, as we witness many of these ghastly medical trials through the eyes of a Japanese youth Corp billeted at Camp 731. In charge of this group is a brutal buffoon, Sergeant Kawasaki, who these small soldiers eventually turn against.

The film's damming postscript won't reduce any anti-Japanese sentiment in Asia, and will only fuel the region's ongoing distrust of American governments.

Man Behind the Sun spawned two vastly inferior sequels both directed by HK hack Godfrey Ho. In 1995, T.F. Mou unleashed Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre, a docudrama detailing the 1937 "rape of Nanking" by the invading Japanese army. It can be rightly judged as a powerful and graphic companion piece to Man Behind the Sun.


This review was first published in the fanzine Battle Stations!

The brutality may prove too realistic for many
viewers, but the subject matter demands it.

An uncompromising movie that vividly shows
the atrocities committed by the Japanese
against the Chinese in Camp 731.

"A Japanese army unit that committed some
of the worst atrocities in modern history".
(award-winning episode "Japan - Unit 731")

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