“John Rabe”, a German film that takes place in 1937 during the Sino-Japanese war, tells the story of a man who helped save over 200,000 residents of Nanjing. The film opened in hundreds of Chinese cinemas on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Japan’s prime minister was in China for a two-day visit to develop stronger foundations for cooperation between the two countries whose relationship remains tense.
John Rabe helped rescue over 200,000 residents of Nanjing during the Sino-Japanese war
The red carpet had been rolled out for “John Rabe’s” director Florian Gallenberger and he had plenty of smiles for the television cameras. Two cinemas were full with guests who had eagerly come to attend the Chinese premiere on Tuesday.
The film is about a Siemens manager and Nazi whose efforts saved the lives of over 200,000 Chinese people.
“John Rabe is not only a German story,” Gallenberger told the guests in Beijing. “It combines German and Chinese history. The Nanjing massacre is very important in China. So showing the film here is like preaching to the converted. Not like in Germany where nobody knows anything about it. That’s why I think our film will go down well here.”
750 copies have already been distributed to cinemas across the country. There are posters advertising the film all over the big cities.
“John Rabe” and “Nanjing Nanjing” cover the same subject
However, “John Rabe“ is not the only film about the Sino-Japanese war and the Nanjing massacre on the screens. The Chinese-made “Nanjing Nanjing“ came out just a few weeks ago and has been a great box office success so far.
“I think it’s an interesting coincidence that there is another film about the same topic by a Chinese director,” Gallenberger said. “It just highlights the different perspectives. I don’t think that the films are competing. I think they will attract more attention and that people will say: ‘I saw that film and I want to see the other one so I can compare’“.
Whereas the battles between Japan and China play a central role in “Nanjing Nanjing”, John Rabe is predominantly about the good German Nazi who saved Chinese lives.
Some Chinese film critics have criticised the fact that the Chinese only play a supporting role in Gallenberger’s film. Moreover, they think the Chinese come across as weak and needy.
Praise for treatment of Japanese occupation
However, they have praised the German director for addressing the cruelties perpetrated by the Japanese occupiers so openly. There are vivid scenes of massacres, executions and rapes. For many Chinese, the Japanese occupation remains a very open wound and there is still much hostility towards Japan.
The guests at the premiere were in shock after the screening. One said that “the Japanese should be forced to watch this film.“
“I thought the film was very sad -- these awful acts. To be honest, I still don’t have a good feeling about the Japanese,” another viewer said.
Japanese PM in China to smooth bilateral relations
This is a reality that Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso has to face during his two-day visit to China -- his first state visit to the country. Last week, he upset Beijing by sending an offering to a controversial war shrine that honours war dead but also war criminals in Tokyo.
Amid global economic crisis and growing fears of a swine flu pandemic, his task is to smooth relations and to create a basis for better bilateral cooperation in the future.
At a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao on Wednesday, Aso said that he hoped there would be “progress in the mutually beneficial strategic partnership”.
Wen Jiabao, for his part, echoed these sentiments but also said that Japan should deal appropriately with the “sensitive issue of history”.