Movie Review: Men Behind the Sun (1988)

This film caught my eye because it was in the upper echelon of lists that suggested the most disturbing movies ever made. Having seen Salo: or the 120 Days of Sodom, Cannibal Holocaust, and Caligula, I was not sure how this movie would affect me, and if it would live up to its stature as one of the more horrific movies ever filmed.

While I was disturbed at some points, this just goes to show how de-sensitized we have become as a society, with appalling movies such as the Saw series, and all the other countless pieces of garbage that try to mimic it. By today’s standards, this film could be placed near Saw for the gore factor, but it surpasses it in storytelling, because what we have here is the true story of Unit 731, a Japanese biological and chemical warfare test facility. This film examines some of the atrocious experiments conducted on human beings, which in this case, were captured Chinese citizens and soldiers.

When this first came out in 1988, it was probably one of the most disturbing movies ever made up until that point. I have no doubt that there were countless people who got up and left the theaters. There is no censorship here; when they are conducting an experiment, we see everything.

Sometimes the experiments are done on men, sometimes women and children, which make it all the more disgusting. But perhaps the scene that really made me cringe was when the doctors threw a live cat into a tub of rats and watched it get eaten alive. This was without a doubt a real cat, because the whole scene was too realistic, and there was no CGI back then to make a cat. Had this part been left out, I would have been able to give this film a higher rating, but I am not a fan of having animals killed for the making of a movie.

Aside from medical experiments, which includes testing a man in a high pressurized chamber and watching his entrails burst out of him, and testing a woman’s arms in sub-130 degree temperature, only to have them submerged in hot water where they then rip the skin off her bones, the film also goes into detail on the youth corps serving there.

This youth corps would be kept from the secrets going on at the camp until the very end, when they are asked to participate in the extermination of all surviving prisoners because, as the film mentions, Japan was bombed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the war was nearing an end.

Another thing that caught my attention was the mention of the Nazi’s and there experiments, and how the Japanese doctor says that Germany’s are subpar to theirs, and that they will never accomplish what the Japanese already have.

Camp 731 also has a crematorium, which is there to mimic that of a concentration camp used by the Nazi’s. I don’t know if they were that identical in real life, or if director T.F Mous just used it as a parallel.

All in all, this film has some very realistic and shocking death scenes sure to make you cringe. But it is not just a gore fest, there is an actual story and some history behind it. Camp 731 really existed, and the main character, Lt. General Shiro Ishii, played by Gang Wang,  existed as well. I have not done further research, but I am sure that I will find more truth than fiction in this movie, making it all the more stunning. My final grade will be a 6 out of 10, and I do recommend this to an audience that is not faint of heart and wants to learn some of the secrets of WWII human experimentation.

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