Saturday, April 28, 2012

Philosophy of a Knife

Philosophy of a Knife [QuickFix]
Directed by: Andrey Iskanov
Russia/USA, 2008
Drama/ Documentary, 249min

A documentation of war crime atrocities conducted by Japanese Unit 731 during the Second World War. A harrowing brew of archival footage, re-enactments and interviews with Anatoly Protasov, who was a former doctor/ military translator at the trials of the U731 doctors in Khabarovsk, USSR at the end of WWII.

Phew, prepare yourself to be mangled by the steamroller of malevolence, because Philosophy of a Knife is the Ben Hur of extreme cinema!  An epic piece of work, that drains its audience with almost four and a half hours of grotesque but captivating study of the legendary Unit 731.

Crafted through interviews, archive footage and reconstructions, Andrey Iskanov’s joyride of atrocities beats the shit out of any History Chanel documentary ever. This is the ultimate history of Unit 731, the Japanese research facility that conducted chemical and biological experiments on prisoners of war, from the early days, to their exposure and trial after the war. I can’t argue the accuracy of the Protasov interviews, but that old man has an aura of authenticity which definitely set’s up a level of realism which totally sells me the coming scenes of archival footage the often lead up to the brutalities to be re-enacted. What makes this such an overwhelming and powerful trip is the way Iskanov brings his Art-house-surrealistic touch to the realm of tortures and death. Even in the midst of the most grotesque of moments, there’s an aesthetic that propels the onscreen monstrosities deeper into the mind. Rapid edits, loud music, re-enactments cut against real footage and archival material creates juxtaposition from hell, and it becomes a test of endurance.

There’s a decent enough idea behind the movie, as Iskanov claims in his introduction that he wanted to show the events from the Japanese side and the morale dilemma that came with working there. This is obvious through the subplots found in each part of the two part movie, concerning a young nurse [Yukari Fujimoto] and her letters to those at home – who’s voice is performed by Manoush, German actress/singer/writer who also holds an important part in Marc Rohnstock’s Necronos: The Tower of Doom 2010 – and in the second part where a young officer [Tetusro Sakagami] finds himself conflicted between his emotions for a Russian female prisoner [Elena Poboatova] whist in the service of the Emperor, torturing people for a superior purpose.

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, it’s the sleaze, the gore, the violence of the special effects (or what is shown, I’ll never look at cockroaches in the same way ever again) that one comes to this movie for. Sure the history lesson is tantalizing, but it becomes a competition of comparison to the Men Behind the Sun films from the 80-90's. Iskanov pulls it off with bravura, giving new takes on classic scenes and bringing some even more disturbing stuff with him. Fuck The Human Centipede, this is four hours plus of medical accuracy, and let’s just say that the effects are gag-inducing.
The audioscape of this thing is amazing, there is no sound effect left unused as Iskanov pushes his nightmarish images to a further level with noises and industrial music that could compete with a Merzbow concert.

I guess the thing that attracts audiences the most with Philosophy of a Knife and the Men Behind the Sun movie, is the basic fact that these are all real atrocities which where performed on real people. The Evil that mankind does holds a strong macabre fascination for us all in our daily struggle with the fact that we are all going to die one day. In the safety of our TV couch it’s easy to gloat upon the carnage, but never forget that this is telling you a real story, and the morale debate on doing wrong for a good cause is a fascinating one. I often toy with the idea, what if Unit 371, or even the Nazi WW2 human experiments had come up with a life-altering discovery? How would this affect our otherwise polarized judgement on the matter?

Philosophy of a Knife get’s 6/6, and that’s for the approach to the subject matter and sheer enormity of this movie. Although there are some minor flaws, which in all honesty would be like complaining about the tan marks on the nuns in eighties nunsploitation flicks, or sock marks on nude inmates in WI.P films, the film is still totally worth the full house. Damn, four hours plus of vile grimness, interwoven with an important historic story. This is potent stuff. Just after Iskanov had completed postproduction, and had shipped his cut/footage to US for the DVD release, he was obtained by the FSB - that’s KGB to you and me mate! His computer and materials where seized and he was continuously interrogated on the source and extent of his research. After being held captive in a military base prison cell for five days, Iskanov was released with little of his materials or computers given back. I’d would have written it up as a genius marketing gimmick if I didn’t know that, one of the ballsiest Swedish movie distributors, have been trying to get this movie out for over a year now. More than one hard drive has been seized by officials on the way between Iskanov and the distributor. Or the fact that the box of discs I once sent my mate Alex in Russia, never arrived at his place either! One wonders what they where afraid Iskanov may have found…?
I forbid you to call yourself a fan of extreme cinema until you’ve sat through the full 249 minutes of Philosophy of a Knife.


Alex Jowski said...

This movie was educational, to say the least. I had thought "Men Behind the Sun" was just fiction until this movie.

Alex B. said...

I've not sat through the full 249 minutes of Philosophy of a Knife... so I won't call myself a fan of extreme cinema :) cool review, that!

CiNEZiLLA said...

Polarizing readers, just like Philosophy polarizes it's audience.

Ok, nobody, BUT you Alex can call themselves fans of Extreme cinema... :D

Thanks to both Alexes.


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