Of all the films made about the horrors of war over the years, this 1988 film about Japan's infamous Unit 731 has to be the most shocking, brutal and graphic depiction of war atrocities ever filmed.
Based on fact, the film takes place towards the end of WW2, where the Japanese are losing ground to the allies. Believing the solution to their problems lie in bacteriological weapons, the Japanese army set up an experimental warfare division in Manchuria, China. Known only as Unit 731, it's here they proceed to experiment on the none-too-happy Chinese prisoners and Russian POW's.
Newly arrived at the base, are a detachment of Japanese Youth Corp volunteers, who are shocked and alarmed to see the horrors being carried out at the camp, under the direction of the commandant Lt General Ishii. As prisoners are injected with strains of Bubonic plague, in order to see which one is the most lethal. Autopsies and medical experiments are performed on still live victims, prisoners are strung up and used for ballistic tests, frost bite victims have their frozen limbs smashed and, grossest of all, one unfortunate prisoner is shoved into a compression chamber to see how high they they can turn up the pressure till he dies. All in the name of science!
Intended as a realistic insight into the little known atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army during the war. The film remains highly controversial, not only due to its graphic subject matter, but also because of the inclusion of animal cruelty (a cat being thrown into a room full of rats) and the Director's use of a real corpse during an autopsy scene. In fact you'd be forgiven for thinking this was merely an exploitation pic, or shock film, as many critics feel the Director crossed the line with his graphic depictions.
However, the film is extremely well made and and is actually quite sympathetic in its portrayal of the young members of the Japanese Youth Corps, who really had no idea what they were getting into and shows that they were as much a victim of circumstance as the prisoners. From a historical perspective, it is also interesting to note that whilst Germany has done nothing but apologise and attempt to make reparations for its role in World War 2, the Japanese have never once apologised for anything, or even acknowledged any wrong doing on their part. Which was the directors main reason for showing the full brutality of what really happened.
An interesting film, but not one I would recommend to the faint of heart as even the most ardent gore hound will have a problem sitting through this one.