City of Life and Death

2009 Drama

Within the scope of Asian history, few events carry the ugly and sickening connotations of the Rape of Nanking. Japanese forces invaded that Chinese city on December 9, 1937, and in the six weeks to follow, soldiers raped thousands of women and annihilated hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Director Lu Chuan directs this black-and-white docudrama account of that horrifying six-week period, with the benefit of an ensemble cast that includes Hideo Nakaizumi as a conscience-stricken Japanese soldier, Fan Wei as the aid to a German humanitarian worker, and Gao Yuanyuan as the head of a refugee camp. Lu relays the events directly and straightforwardly, with a careful avoidance of sensationalism and excessive sentimentality, and uses the chronicle to meditate on the insanity of war for all of those involved.

Director: Lu Chuan

Starring: Liu Ye, Yuanyuan Gao, Hideo Nakaizumi, Wei Fan, Jiang Yiyan


  • City of Life and Death isn't cathartic: it offers no uplifting moments, just the immodest balm of art. The horrors it represents can be almost too difficult to watch, yet you keep watching because Mr. Lu makes the case that you must.

    Manohla Dargis - The New York Times

    19 January 2013

  • City of Life and Death, a stunning re-creation of the Japanese army's annihilation of Nanking in 1937, will make you flinch, even as you admire its brilliant black-and-white cinematography, breathtaking art design and unerring direction.

    - The San Francisco Chronicle

    19 January 2013

  • Harrowing and unflinching, a savage nightmare so consuming and claustrophobic you will want to leave but fear to go, City of Life and Death is a cinematic experience unlike any you've had before. It's a film strong enough to change your life, if you can bear to watch it at all.

    Kenneth Turan - Los Angeles Times

    19 January 2013

  • This is hardly a film to recommend as entertainment. As an act of remembrance, though, it is singular and, in its way, soaring.

    Joe Morgenstern - The Wall Street Journal

    19 January 2013

  • Here the Japanese senses of honor and of shame are particularly entangled. Later in the film, Lu mounts an Imperial Army parade through the Nanking ruins. It's something to see.

    Wesley Morris - The Boston Globe

    19 January 2013


  • Achievement in Cinematography

    Asia Pacific Screen Awards (2009)

  • Best Cinematographer

    Asian Film Awards (2010)

  • Best Cinematography

    Golden Horse Film Festival (2009)

  • Best Asian Film

    Hong Kong Film Awards (2010)

  • Best Foreign Language Film

    Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards (2011)