Japanese troops beseige and conquer the Chinese captial Nanking.
City of Life and Death is fiction but is based on the experiences of real people who were caught up in this shocking tale of war and inhumanity. It has the feel of a documentary and recreates in black and white, the horror captured on film at the time. Mass executions, brutality, rape, and forced prostitution are presented in the matter of fact way that they were carried out.
This isn't anti-Japanese propaganda though the shame of their actions should not be forgotten. Kakodawa (Hideo Nakaizumi), a young soldier, represents the human side of the invaders. Just as Mr. Tang (Wei Fan) shows the desperate attempts that some locals tried to protect their families.
If there are heroes in this story, they are the women. Plus one child, Xiaodouzi (Bin Liu), who is still alive today. The dramatic focus is the International Safety Zone, where an illusory attempt to help refugees from the slaughter takes place.
This film should be compulsory viewing in a world that still seems obsessed with going to war.