By Jerome Reuter
As the viewing audience, we sometimes ask ourselves when a film goes to far. In my opinion, this is the case with Philosophy Of A Knife. Andrey Iskanov’s 2008 film is 4 four-hour journey into Hell. It’s also one of the vilest films that I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s an abrasive narrative combing experimental film, graphic reenactments, and stock footage in an attempt to retell the story of Unit 731. Unlike Men Behind The Sun, this film has little to no merit.
Adapting historic events to celluloid, has been a long standing challenge. It’s even harder when those events are also among the worst in human history. The war crimes committed by unit 731 are still a source of controversy, even today. Iskanov’s narrative attempts to present itself as a documentary. Unfortunately, it comes across more like a snuff film that would make anyone uneasy watching it. The film also suffers from horrible pacing; at with such a long running time, it’s an endurance test, for one’s patience, and their stomach.
That’s not to say the film is completely horrid. Shot entirely in black & white, with the exception of an interview, it does have a gloomy atmosphere about it. As an experimental filmmaker, I applaud the efforts to harness imagery to tell a story. Even if that imagery is some of the worst I’ve ever seen.
The bulk of this work focuses on the experiments performed by unit 731. I can honestly say that these are some of the most visceral images I’ve ever witnessed. Not only are these sequences graphic, they’re also unsettling, and in very poor taste. Although they are heavily based on documented fact, it’s the way they’re presented. So much emphasis is placed on these segments, it makes this film take the form of torture porn. From people being skinned alive, raped, and even inseminated with insects, this film reaches a new low.
Men Behind The Sun was a provocative work. T.F. Mau made a film so his fellow countrymen wouldn’t forget the past. He wanted to draw attention to the actions of the Japanese, as well as the indoctrination of youth into ideology. Philosophy Of A Knife takes the unimaginable suffering of others, and exploits it for shock value. This isn’t something like The Gestapo’s Last Orgy, or Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS. Those were films were tyranny was used as a vehicle for soft-core pornography. This is a different kind of exploitation, one we can do without.