“The so-called 'Left-Hand Path' - that of Kaulas, Siddhas and Viras - combines the... Tantric worldview with a doctrine of the Übermensch which would put Nietzsche to shame... The Vira - which is to say: the 'heroic' man of Tantrism - seeks to sever all bonds, to overcome all duality between good and evil, honor and shame, virtue and guilt. Tantrism is the supreme path of the absolute absence of law - of shvecchacarī, a word meaning 'he whose law is his own will'." ― Julius Evola, The Path of Cinnabar.

“It is necessary to have “watchers” at hand who will bear witness to the values of Tradition in ever more uncompromising and firm ways, as the anti-traditional forces grow in strength. Even though these values cannot be achieved, it does not mean that they amount to mere “ideas.” These are measures…. Let people of our time talk about these things with condescension as if they were anachronistic and anti-historical; we know that this is an alibi for their defeat. Let us leave modern men to their “truths” and let us only be concerned about one thing: to keep standing amid a world of ruins.” ― Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World: Politics, Religion, and Social Order in the Kali Yuga.

“We are born into this time and must bravely follow the path to the destined end. There is no other way. Our duty is to hold on to the lost position, without hope, without rescue, like that Roman soldier whose bones were found in front of a door in Pompeii, who died at his post during the eruption of Vesuvius because someone forgot to relieve him. That is greatness. That is what it means to be a thoroughbred. The honorable end is the one that can not be taken from a man.” ― Oswald Spengler, Man and Technics: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

PHILOSOPHY OF A KNIFE (2008)

PHILOSOPHY OF A KNIFE (2008)
A Film by Andrey Iskanov

I’d heard rumors here and there about this film without complete details as to the exact subject matter or how it was being handled; only that it was a bizarre, brutally sadistic, gruesome, surrealistic four-hour Russian film. It is all of these things conveniently prepackaged under the historically factual aegis of the WWII-era Japanese military scientific research of chemical-biological weapons and disease warfare against Chinese and Russian POWs conducted by the notorious “Unit 731.”

For those unfamiliar with the historical facts, Unit 731 was, to quote Wikipedia, “a covert biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army that undertook lethal human experimentation during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) and World War II. It was responsible for some of the most notorious war crimes carried out by Japanese personnel. Officially known by the Imperial Japanese Army as the Kempeitai Political Department and Epidemic Prevention Research Laboratory, it was initially set up under the Kempeitai military police of the Empire of Japan to develop weapons of mass destruction for potential use against Chinese, and possibly Soviet forces.”

Wikipedia continues, “A special project code-named Maruta used human beings for experiments. Test subjects were gathered from the surrounding population and were sometimes referred to euphemistically as "logs". This term originated as a joke on the part of the staff due to the fact that the official cover story for the facility given to the local authorities was that it was a lumber mill. The test subjects were selected to give a wide cross section of the population, and included common criminals, captured bandits and anti-Japanese partisans, political prisoners, and also people rounded up by the secret police for alleged "suspicious activities" and included infants, the elderly and pregnant women.”

Unit 731 activities included human vivisection, “Prisoners of war were subjected to vivisection without anesthesia. Vivisections were performed on prisoners after infecting them with various diseases. Scientists performed invasive surgery on prisoners, removing organs to study the effects of disease on the human body. These were conducted while the patients were alive because it was feared that the decomposition process would affect the results. The infected and vivisected prisoners included men, women, children, and infants. Vivisections were also performed on pregnant women, sometimes impregnated by doctors, and the fetus removed. Prisoners had limbs amputated in order to study blood loss. Those limbs that were removed were sometimes re-attached to the opposite sides of the body.[7]
Some prisoners' limbs were frozen and amputated, while others had limbs frozen then thawed to study the effects of the resultant untreated gangrene and rotting. Some prisoners had their stomachs surgically removed and the esophagus reattached to the intestines. Parts of the brain, lungs, liver, etc. were removed from some prisoners.”

Unit 731 also had jolly fun testing weapons on humans, “Human targets were used to test grenades positioned at various distances and in different positions. Flame throwers were tested on humans. Humans were tied to stakes and used as targets to test germ-releasing bombs, chemical weapons and explosive bombs.” They also tested biological and chemical weapons, “Prisoners were injected with inoculations of disease, disguised as vaccinations, to study their effects. To study the effects of untreated venereal diseases, male and female prisoners were deliberately infected with syphilis and gonorrhea, then studied. Prisoners were infested with fleas in order to acquire large quantities of disease-carrying fleas for the purposes of studying the viability of germ warfare. Plague fleas, infected clothing, and infected supplies encased in bombs were dropped on various targets. The resulting cholera, anthrax, and plague were estimated to have killed around 200,000 Chinese civilians. Tularemia was tested on Chinese civilians. Unit 731 and its affiliated units (Unit 1644, Unit 100, et cetera) were actively involved not only in research and development, but also in experimental deployment of epidemic-creating biowarfare weapons in assaults against the Chinese populace (both civilian and military) throughout World War II. Plague-infested fleas, bred in the laboratories of Unit 731 and Unit 1644, were spread by low-flying airplanes upon Chinese cities, coastal Ningbo in 1940, and Changde, Hunan Province, in 1941. This military aerial spraying killed thousands of people with bubonic plague epidemics…. Japanese scientists performed tests on prisoners with plague, cholera, smallpox, botulism and other diseases. This research led to the development of the defoliation bacilli bomb and the flea bomb used to spread the bubonic plague. Some of these bombs were designed with ceramic (porcelain) shells, an idea proposed by Ishii in 1938. These bombs enabled Japanese soldiers to launch biological attacks, infecting agriculture, reservoirs, wells, and other areas with anthrax, plague-carrier fleas, typhoid, dysentery, cholera, and other deadly pathogens. In addition, infected food supplies and clothing were dropped by airplane into areas of China not occupied by Japanese forces.”

Other experiments included, “being hung upside down to see how long it would take for them to choke to death. Having air injected into their arteries to determine the time until the onset of embolism. Having horse urine injected into their kidneys. Being deprived of food and water to determine the length of time until death. Being placed into high-pressure chambers until death. Being exposed to extreme temperatures and developed frostbite to determine how long humans could survive with such an affliction, and to determine the effects of rotting and gangrene on human flesh. Having experiments performed upon prisoners to determine the relationship between temperature, burns, and human survival. Being placed into centrifuges and spun until dead. Having animal blood injected and the effects studied. Being exposed to lethal doses of x-ray radiation. Having various chemical weapons tested on prisoners inside gas chambers. Being injected with sea water to determine if it could be a substitute for saline.”

Aside from whatever great discoveries were made in the course of these experiments, I’m certain the good doctors of Unit 731 would be surprised to see their antics immortalized in not one, but two cult classic exploitation films. The first being Mou Tun Fei’s MEN BEHIND THE SUN, the second being Andrey Iskanov’s PHILOSOPHY OF A KNIFE.

A good indicator of the “humanity” of PHILOSOPHY OF A KNIFE is the objectifying anonymity of the acting credits (from imdb): “Yukari Fujimoto ... The female nurse #1; Yumiko Fujiwara ... The female nurse #2; Svyatoslav Iliyasov ... The male nurse; Andrey Iskanov ... The amputation surgeon; Masaki Kitagava ... The female nurse #3; Tatyana Kopeykina ... The blond girl with toy bear; Vladimir Kucherenko ... The radioactivity experiment man; Veronika Leonova ... The brunette girl; Victor Ludchenko ... The decompression experiment man; Manoush ... Japanese nurse (voice); Reiko Niakawa ... The female nurse #4; Irina Nikitina ... The pregnant girl; Tomoya Okamoto ... The officer #2; Elena Probatova ... The favorite girl; Anatoly Protasov ... Himself; Tetsuro Sakagami ... The officer #1; Artem Seleznyov ... The frostbite experiment man; Victor Silkin ... The old surgeon; Dmitriy Skripnik ... The captured airplane pilot; Alyona Strebkova ... The dental torture girl; Anna Subbotina ... The insect experiment girl; Irina Zenkina ... The syphilis experiment girl” …etc.

Aesthetically this film is like a cross between the opening title sequence of SEVEN and the black and white “cursed video” sequences from THE RING, but depicting a broad spectrum of graphic, sadistic, and sexualized medical experiments juxtaposed with documentary footage and surrealistic shots of the experimental facilities, instruments, and frozen blizzard-blasted environment of the compound. I say “sexualized” because virtually all of the female victims look like they were selected from a catalog of Russian mail-order brides; it is highly unlikely that the actual victims of Unit 731 were so picturesque. So, we get to see nubile young Russian babes skinned alive, raped, injected with biological weapons, electrocuted, subjected to callous invasive gynecological experiments with cold metal implements and large crawling insects, brutal piecemeal vaginal extraction of an atrophied fetus, etc.

The aesthetic content of this film is spot on, weaving together imagery of medical charts, models, diagrams, bottled specimens, surgical and scientific instruments, brutally frozen outdoor landscapes, emotionally freezing clinical interior settings, while alternating between the callous objectification of human subjects by military and medical personnel. It is definitely 100-proof eye-candy.

My main criticisms of the film would be:

A. The choice of victims: The film would have been more emotionally scarring if the victims were more down-to-earth ugly and misshapen as your average person on the street.

B. Poor prosthetics: Even though the bloodiest scenes in the film were in black and white, the blood still looked fake, as did the prosthetic skin, viscera and muscle tissue. The depiction of musculature of the face looked like the product of pure imagination and cheap clay. This could have been avoided by spending a little time with a basic photographic atlas of human anatomy and a small amount of effort to make the prosthetics look like actual wet muscle tissue. Some of the effects came out looking not too bad, but too many of them were cheesy-looking to anyone who has seen actual human anatomy. Too many of the effects scenes here consisted of steel implements mashing around in painfully obvious cheap clay and latex. I know no-budget art students and FX geeks who make better prosthetics in their garage. Not ALL of the effects in the film were that bad, but too many of them were.

C. The film is too long: I am not squeamish about the duration of a film as long as the director is making good use of the time, in fact one of the selling points of this film for me was its potential if it lived up to its epic duration. It might have, had it taken just a little more care with its essential elements, but as it stands the film could have been improved with tighter editing.

It is impossible to discuss PHILOSOPHY OF A KNIFE without comparing it to MEN BEHIND THE SUN, the previous film treatment of Unit 731, which is in my opinion still the superior of the two. The surrealist aesthetic treatment and substandard prosthetic effects actually make PHILOSOPHY OF A KNIFE less disturbing than the more straightforward, prosthetically adept, and full color depictions of the atrocities in MEN BEHIND THE SUN. While it is true that MEN BEHIND THE SUN does not go to the same prolonged extremes, and is essentially devoid of sexualized content, no one can accuse it of being “soft” in its prurient extended depiction of inhuman torture and abuse. While I think at this stage of the game that Mu Tun Fei is the superior film director, I have to say Andrey Iskanov shows a LOT of potential if he can reign in his urges and bring his artistic abilities to bear in a more disciplined way on his subject matter. PHILOSOPHY OF A KNIFE has a lot of power, aesthetically and in content, but spread a little too thin and a little too over-eagerly, resulting at times in what could be mistaken for the superficial aesthetic gimmickry of a rock video. But it is clear that Iskanov has the potential to create an important film of more artistic weight. I hope he does so without softening the intent or subject matter. I look forward to watching his career progress.

JDS



1 comment:

Joseph Driftwood said...

i totally agree with your criticisms. It could have easily been just as effective if at least 90 minutes were cut. Also, the "romance" subplot between the doctor and the prisoner was not needed in this type of film. Good review.