“God created heaven, man created hell”
Quite what writer/producer/director Andrey Iskanov was trying to achieve with Philosophy of A Knife is questionable. His motives are not apparent even after viewing this movie. Based on the notorious Japanese Unit 731, Iskanov has created a 4 hour mockumntary/mondo movie that is incredibly hard to sit through. Let me just reiterate that point, the movie is four hours long! Divided into 2 parts, the interviews are in colour, where as the footage from the camp is in a very stark black & white.
There is no plot to speak of. The movie simply recreates the hideous human experiments carried out by Unit 731. Each one recreated in unflinching detail from reports & records from the time. This is very strong stuff indeed. There is an attempt to bring in a human element to the movie, involving a Japanese soldier & a Russian girl but this is almost an afterthought. The movies sole reason for being is to portray scene after scene of repulsive torture & suffering.
This isn’t the first movie to tackle this subject, Tun Fei Mou’ s impressive Men Behind The Sun also chronicles Unit 731. Philosophy Of A Knife fails to achieve any of its lofty ambitions. It isn’t a historically accurate mirror of the atrocities committed by Unit 731, nor is it a true documentary, nor is it a mondo film. At best it is a shocking 4 hour-long torture-porn horror movie, nothing more. Iskanov has tried to make his film look like genuine footage from the time. The film stock is a stark, grainy black & white which matches in well with the stock footage. He has framed these scenes with fake interviews (filmed in colour) from a supposed eye-witness. If Iskanov is trying that hard to achieve some kind of realism then he truly dropped the ball with the victims. It is true that historically Unit 731 did experiment of western prisoners, especially Russians. The bulk of their victims were Chinese. This is not reflected in the movie. All the victims are of western descent & look way too healthy & well fed before they are experimented on. There are also endless, & I do mean endless, shots of the exterior of the camp as the snow falls. These shots could easily account for 10-20 minutes of the films running time!
There is no way I can review this movie without talking about the experiments themselves. Please be warned unless you can take extreme gore do not even attempt to watch this movie. Every kind of violent perversity is played out in unflinching detail. To give you an idea, in one experiment a woman is tied to a chair, a cockroach is then, in graphic detail, inserted into her vagina. She is left for a while with the roach inside her. When the doctors return, they cut & pull back the skin & muscle on her face & the roach exits through her mouth. Her face is then placed back & she is taken away to be dismembered & burnt. That isn’t the strongest scene in the movie either. The problem with these scenes is they are so matter-of fact that they lose a lot of their power to shock & disturb. There is no background to the victims, they are just fodder. An endless procession of faceless fodder. Considering these acts actually occurred, it is where the film is at its most offensive & is insulting to the memory of the victims.
Philosophy Of A Knife is a complete & utter failure. Should you want to see a dramatisation of the infamous unit 731, I would suggest Men Behind The Sun, a very shocking & brutal movie. But one that at least tries to make a point & treats the subject matter with some respect. As for Philosophy Of A Knife, just avoid it.