IRIS CHANG: THE RAPE OF NANKING (Bill Spahic, Anne Pick). 105 minutes. Screens Monday and Tuesday (November 12-13) and November 19-20 at the Bloor. Rating: NNN
This documentary weaves two stories: a profile of Chinese-American author Iris Chang, whose book The Rape Of Nanking propelled her to fame, and a historic retelling of the 1937 Nanking massacre.
Chang wrote about Japan's invasion of China from the perspective of survivors who recall witnessing brutal rapes and human slaughter of unimaginable proportions. In the film, the survivors tell deeply personal stories, their voices shaking with raw emotion as if the genocide took place yesterday.
Archival footage shows only a fraction of the horrors, and Japan, to this day, denies the true extent of the damage.
In the same way Sylvia Plath and Diane Arbus let their art take them to dark places, Chang allowed the survivors' stories to take over her entire being. Chang's depression led to suicide in 2004.
Olivia Cheng plays Chang too melodramatically, and the theme song, which fits late in the film, is too syrupy in the opening.
This sentimentality makes the first third of the film awkward, and it's only when the survivors are finally introduced that the story becomes powerful.
Actor Cheng and Iris Chang's parents appear at the November 12 screening.