14 Jun

It’s four hours long? Jesus. Philosophy of a Knife.

Posted by Bryan White | Saturday June 14, 2008 | Reviews

Philosophy of a KnifeOne of the legendary Cat III movies out of Hong Kong back in the 90′s tape trading circuit was a movie called The Men Behind The Sun which was a dramatic recreation of the World War 2 atrocities committed against Russian and Chinese prisoners of war at the Unit 731 compund. It is an uncomfortable, angry movie full of the sort of shit you associate with movies that carry that Category III black mark. Guts explode through a man’s anus, rats eat an actual live cat and the body of a real dead child is cut up in an autopsy. The very existence of this movie is amazing to me. Though, I understand. T. F. Mou, the director, is a crazed Chinese nationalist and the very idea of these sorts of crimes committed against his countrymen drove him to make a movie that casts the Japanese in a very vicious light. Unsurprisingly, Mou would follow it up a few years later with another historical gore epic, Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre which more or less puts the Japanese in the same position, but can you blame the guy? Do you know anything about these episodes in World War 2 history? It’s fucked up.

Apparently, one excessive movie about Unit 731 isn’t enough and Andrey Iskanov not only set out to make an English language movie about this horrifying piece of Asian history, but he thought that standard feature length wasn’t even remotely enough time to tell the story and decided that if anything, your senses needed to be bombarded by senseless, graphic brutality for four fucking hours!

I’m a bit of a history buff. I’m fascinated by periods of human history when we’re stretched to the breaking point and in order to survive, we’re forced to do things that we never thought ourselves capable of. This criteria makes World War 2 particularly interesting to me. Because of its sheer scope and because of the American school system, its very difficult to be a non-European history major and get the big picture of what was happening around the globe in relation to World War 2. In Philosophy of a Knife’s case, we’re talking about Russian and Chinese involvement and opposition of Japan in the years leading up to the Sino-Japanese War and Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Everything you see in the first half hour is context lending to the story of the establishment of Unit 731, Japan’s answer to Russia and Germany’s horrific and technically top-secret experiments on dissidents and criminals in the world of chemical and biological weapons. Brace yourself. You’re going to see some upsetting footage.

Philosophy of a Knife does something that I’ve seen few movies do. There is so much archival footage. Whatever is actually left over from these times. After the end of the war, The Russians couldn’t move fast enough to erase the memory of that horrifying location but Iskanov has assembled some actual film and photography of wartime atrocities all the while narrated by a key figure in the ensuing Khabarosk war crimes trials. But a simple documentary this is not. Intercut into the documentary footage are narratives from the perspectives of a 731 nurse and a soldier, who struggle with their innate sympathy for the victims of the experimentation as well as their cultural brainwashing that tells them that 731, though inhuman, is serving a greater cause to help the Japanese win the coming war with the West. It’s fascinating. This quality elevates it beyond the Men Behind The Sun comparisons. They’re telling the same story but taking wildly divergent paths.

At times, I am overwhelmed by the sheer degree of violence. When you have four hours on your hands to make a bloodsoaked document of one of the Second World War’s blackest times, you can indulge in the true horror of it all. Iskanov pulls no punches and while I’m sure 9 out of 10 people interested in the 731 topic will be turned off by the gore, to show this movie any other way would be dishonest. This is going to be a magnet for bad press among non-genre publications but I almost think that the exploitation logo that Philosophy is bound to receive would be better worn on a documentary that talks about the atrocities but skirts around the specifics. Philosophy, though saturated with some of the most sadistic scenes of torture, has a greater point to make. I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t admit that the movie was clearly made for fans of extreme horror but at the same time there’s an educational element above the voyeurism of no holds barred violence. It is important to know that this happened in such grotesque detail. Because of its sickening nature, the world would feel better if everyone just forgot about it but you know what they say about those forget the past.

Simultaneously, the claim could be made that a degree of social criticism found in all good horror movies is present in Philosophy of a Knife as well. With secret American prisons around Europe and the spectre of POW torture in Guantanamo Bay it’s not much of a stretch to link the movie with certain Bush administration policies and soundbites that assure us that there is no torture happening to enemy combatants on foreign soil. Everything that happens to them is all for the good of Homeland Security.

Visually, the movie is impressive almost entirely in black and white, the new footage receives the film damage treatment to match the grainy, poorly stored vault footage from the 40′s. It’s shot with an artistic attention to detail with many experimental touches to enhance the horror but at a runtime of 249 minutes, it challenges even the excesses of golden age Hollywood. Add to that the scenes of graphic torture and the movie becomes a gauntlet of suffering, a bonafide challenge to hardened gorehounds.

Though I can’t say that I have the tolerance for the violence that the movie puts on display in such explicit detail, I can’t deny the movie its merits. It is a simultaneously fascinating and shocking account, an exceptionally well researched document and a daring experiment in horror filmmaking. Unearthed Films continues to build on its reputation for releasing some of the world’s most unique underground horror films with the upcoming release of Andrey Iskanov’s, ‘Philosophy of a Knife’.

Philosophy of a Knife will be available July 8th from Unearthed Films.

20 Comments 

  1. June 16, 2008 7:55 pm

    peter barr

    i own black sun so i would be interested in seeing this…. poignant review..well done

  2. June 20, 2008 7:50 am

    Lurple

    4 hours? Whew. It sounds quite interesting, but I can’t help but think you’d get a little numb. I’ll probably check it out anyway.

  3. August 26, 2008 8:20 pm

    Necrophant

    I was pretty impressed with this, it didn’t seem like 4 hours at all. This is easily the best low budget film I have seen in the last decade,

  4. October 23, 2008 12:24 pm

    Dan Iordache

    Good review. Glad you agree with Santayana, quote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

  5. November 18, 2008 1:31 pm

    William Zeus

    4 hours and 22 minutes, without including the director’s introduction! What is this s__t? The credits are a rip off from David Fincher’s Se7en (see also the American “Taking Lives”), the beginning scene with the head flying through the air and landing on snow looks exactly like the infamous shot of Willem Dafoe’s head in David Lynch’s Wild At Heart. The sound effects sound just like Lynch’s Eraserhead, too.

    The female prisoners look like top-models. At the end of the film it says: “You’ve been watching an Andrey Iskanov film.” Ha. Iskanov thinks we haven’t seen Gaspar Noe’s (“Irreversible”) first feature film, Seul Contre Tous. At the end of that film, a young girl is shot in the neck but she doesn’dtdie, she continues to bleed until the second shot finally comes to finish her off. There is a similar scene at the end of POAK. At the end of Seul Contre Tous it was written: VOUS AVEZ REGARDEZ UN FILM DE GASPAR NOE. What does Iskanov think? That Americans don’t understand French so it’s okay to act like a parrot and copy Noe and the others?

  6. May 30, 2009 3:06 pm

    bravo_charlie

    Congratulations William Zeus, you’ve managed to completely miss the entire point of the film with your didactic and puerile critique.

  7. May 21, 2010 1:56 am

    charles

    I suppose that many of histories most brutal moments have been turned into entertainment, I get it. My hope is that viewers will give sympathy to the victims, not just ooh and ahh at the death scenes.
    It seemed that the Japanese killers were humanized and showed remorseful feelings all throughout the film. Remorse means nothing to you when the remorseful is cutting out your organs. Why does Iskanov spend so much of MY time showing sad killers. The victims are shown as little more than grunting apes or wild animals.
    The death scenes are eroticized and what should be highly trained Doctors are shown as stabbing and cutting like they are getting sexually stimulated.
    The Russian narrator, at first comes off looking like he is talking UFOs or Loch Ness, then near the end of the film we learn he is a credible witness, likely after most viewers would have gone to bed in disbelief.
    In my view this is exploitation, but I am glad it was made, as it one of very few sources that actually try to tell the story.
    If the USA had not used atomic weapons Japan would have been bombed even worse {see bombing of Tokyo}, invaded killing millions of citizens and the Soviets would have taken half of Japan as they did in Germany. The bombing also let Japan save face for losing and made them seem like forgivable victims.
    Japan is afraid to be vilified again so it is denying this as well as other crimes. We forgave Germany because they accepted responsibility. It’s time for Japan to accept as well.

  8. July 16, 2010 7:08 am

    scott

    Men behind the sun was hard to watch in places, but i must admit, ‘philosophy’ is a trst of endurabce. Part film, part documentry and 4 years in production. How ever harrowing,shocking, deprived or sickening this is, you cannot begin to imagine the horrors of unit 731 in real life. ‘philosophy’ took me days to watch it in full, some scenes stay with you for a long time. So, please be warned, ‘philosophy’ is fact based, harrowing, shocking, sickening, sadistic, deprived, revolting, abd NOTHING left to the imagination. Some dvd sites, will not ship the dvd, i was lucky, i got mine through cusoms.

  9. September 4, 2010 5:31 am

    eric

    it is an awful movie that is plagued with tim and eric style special effects, historical inaccuracy and a boring soundtrack. It tries entirely too hard to be “Disturbing” only to come off as seriously laughable, at least in a bunch of scenes, I laughed.

    That and the “interviews” the movie touts are only one guy, who cant keep his story straight at all, an example of this is when the guy talks about how he stumbled onto the 731 camp by picking mushrooms,- and also can somehow can speak fluent japanese to communicate with the guard because “we were already in medical school in harbin, we already knew japanese”. That makes no fucking sense.

    later on in the same scene, he mentions that the guard threatens him if they ever come back, yet in the second part of the movie, he some how ends up just willingly walking into the courtyard and seeing victims “tied to scattered poles”- I ask you, how would he get so close? the place was swarming with security, what happened to the threats that the guards gave him early? did they find out through some weird experiments that he had superpowers and that they shouldn’t fuck with him? I wouldn’t fucking doubt it. All the interview is an obviously fabricated story told by a rambling old man clearly in his early 90′s.

    not only that, but if you know anything about 731, there is nothing this movie offers that “men behind the sun” didn’t do better and more accurately, or information you couldnt gather by literally taking 45 minutes out of your time to read up on it.

    half of the movie is basically close-ups of people cutting meat, I wish I was kidding, these scenes regularly go on for 15 or more minutes, nothing but a knife cutting meat, boring.

    And as someone else said, everyone in this film is a model, all the females (apparently unit 731 had a huge influx of super hot russian (not asian!) prisoners)- which, makes no sense in itself, they could have easily casted at least MORE then 3 asian people.

    All this combined with vague close-ups (to which you cant even tell whats going on fucking half the time) make up this horrendous 4 hour long “movie/documentary/whatever”.

    so I guess if you’re a fan of horror comedies, or any of the “___ movie” series, you’ll love this film! if you’re looking for an actual story of the atrocities that 731 comitted, please, I’m begging you, look elsewhere.

    I’d probably give it a 2 out of 10, specifically because the soundtrack is good background noise for whatever project you might be working on, but even thats pushing it.

    this movie literally made me angry because of how shitty it was.

  10. September 4, 2010 5:38 am

    eric

    oh yeah also according to this movie, if you have the entirety of your head skin ripped off, you can survive, also after this happens the doctor who did this will try to put the skin back on only to have it hilariously fall off like that of a rubber mask (which the prob obviously was, they didn’t even bother to make it look the least bit realistic) the only thing this scene was missing was a slide whistle.

    you may be wondering to yourself: “woah man, did they actually do that to people?” probably not, its easy to find out information on the shit that 731 actually did, but as far as I know, stuff like that wasn’t even on the menu. The main thing about 731 was that they killed people to kill people, but 99% of the time, the way people were killed and tortured had some sort of valuable medical information, can you think of what information you might gather if you conducted the “skin experiment” on someone? no? thats probably because there isn’t any, and you just got owned again by a drunken old guy, aka the only fucking person that talks in the film next to the narrator.

    While the film DOES mention some of the stuff that actually happened, (the hypothermia experiments, the plague flea bombs) they only spend 5 minutes talking about them at the most before it cuts back to another hilarious scene of some russian supermodel walking around with jerky special effects.

    so yeah, this movie is a waste of time, even moreso at 4 hours.

  11. September 4, 2010 5:53 am

    eric

    one more thing: just came up to the pressure chamber scene, ever see a music video by tool? that was basically it. The victim screamed and screamed all the way up until the final second in which they exploded, except for the fact that in the real world, the victim would easily be unconciouss relatively quickly due to the sudden drop or rise in pressure, ask a diver, or hell, look up “the bends” and “decompression sickness” on wikipedia, if you somehow survived past that part, due to bubbles forming in your blood (or in the movies case, every fucking crevice of your body, apparently even your teeth) you would succumb to hypoxia or pulmonary embolism, most likely the latter (but dont let the director persuade you just because I have something called “basic biology and knowledge of science” and also “common sense”) but hey! this is a “documentary” after all.

    the fact that this movie was even made just makes me wonder what the point of it all was, it certainly wasn’t to tell any sort of story.

  12. March 31, 2011 3:04 am

    James

    “All the interview is an obviously fabricated story told by a rambling old man clearly in his early 90′s.”

    He can be a Holocaust Survivor! LOL!

  13. June 4, 2011 3:49 pm

    Bojan

    One of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. I know it’s supposed to be a horror movie and a movie that tells a horrible story, but the director has failed BAD. I watched, a couple of my friends watched and the only thing we could do is laugh hard at the Russian supermodels playing the Asian nurses and the sheer stupidity of the experiments performed. Archive footage of a guy in a gas mask, 4 mins of snow, 4 mins of an x-ray shot from every possible angle 3 times, 5 mins of 2 obviously bored actors handling bugs and phosphor, then 1 minute of a guy’s face burning in crappy special effects…. If you plan on suiciding and you’re having second thoughts watch this movie…it will reassure you…

  14. September 19, 2011 7:02 pm

    thornphlesh

    We live in brutal times, never knowing peace since the beginning of the 20th century. If humanity can survive long enough, our descendants in future will turn back and say ‘All those people from the 20th and 21st century were sickos.’.

  15. September 27, 2011 10:29 pm

    Maxim Stoyalov

    :)

  16. January 9, 2012 3:55 am

    Hurt666

    Do want to watch this film don’t really give a shit about the historical accuracy or inaccuracy ,we all no stuff like this went on and maybe to some degree is still going on ,so I’m going to watch it as I guess another sic flick (oh and Eric the slide whistle line made me laugh out loud ,looking forward to scene)

  17. February 9, 2012 4:47 am

    The Lunk

    It’s not even fair to call this shit a movie.

    In four panda-christing hours, this film failed to:

    * Sufficiently establish a coherent visual setting, something that is skirted around by never letting the camera stray more than a few inches from what it was filming – in most cases, latex and cheap knives. Sometimes the pubic hair of an obviously-not-chinese woman.

    * Introduce a single fucking character with a name.

    * Depict anyone whose performance was believable under the circumstances of their duress. In one scene, the same Asian actor who plays all the Asian characters is pulling the pieces of a dismembered fetus from this woman’s birth canal, and – I swear to you – if you only watch the snippets in which her face is in frame? She seems to be in the process of enjoying a relatively satisfying orgasm.

    * RELAY ANY CONTIGUOUS NARRATIVE WHATSOEVER FUCK

  18. February 19, 2012 11:57 pm

    Gorehounded

    I have torrent rip of this and I’m going to delete it because of the above comments. Sounds like a real pile of shite. How sad is that, can’t even give this “movie” away.

  19. June 24, 2012 1:55 am

    Movie sucks

    First part of the movie was so confusing. I thought it was a movie before I started watching it but then it turned into a documentary. Facts are thrown in about World War 2 and why the 731 was built. Most scenes are like everyone mentioned, just cutting meat, doesn’t even have a story line. Its awkward the director tried too hard to make it weird. Tried to hard to make it a horror film by showing scenes that are like 15 minutes long of cutting meat and going back and forth to close ups of the face. I had to make myself watch the an 45 minutes. After that I just couldn’t take it anymore. There were real photos and footage of the war, but its not worth watching. I was looking for either an accurate movie based on facts with a story line. Or a documentary with footage. This was a mix of both but horribly put together because I couldn’t follow anything. The supposedly horror scenes remind me of Friday the 13th from the 80′s, you know the Jason movie? If the director had made a movie reenacting the what really happened without the strange angles, annoying music and repetitive meat chopping every few minutes it would have been enough horror just to know that things like this really happen. Instead the director tries to make it even more horrific but overdoing it with the angles, strange repetitive movements and hacking body parts like a murderer. He should’ve just kept it simple stuck to being realistic and it would’ve been scary enough.

  20. December 19, 2012 12:13 pm

    Rick

    Im not being funny but you lot talk from your arse’s youve all missed the point of this film all you care about are sfx go back to speilberg you mainstream tits


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