Viewing Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman’s Nanking is emotionally devastating. The film is a record of the Japanese occupation of Nanking in 1937, which entailed unimaginable cruelty. In addition to the wholesale slaughter of the Chinese, the Japanese committed 20,000 acts of rape in the first month of occupation, according to the Tokyo Tribunal on War Crimes, convened after World War II. The occupation also evoked extraordinary courage.
The courage was embodied in a handful of Westerners, mostly Americans, who refused to leave the city even after the U.S. embassy had ordered them to go home. Instead the Westerners struggled to create a safety zone for the Chinese, negotiating continuously on their behalf with the Japanese military, who raided the zone for men, whom they immediately sent off to their deaths as soldiers, and for women.