Viewing Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman’s Nanking is emotionally devastating. The film is a record of the Japanese occupation of Nanking in 1937, which entailed unimaginable cruelty. In addition to the wholesale slaughter of the Chinese, the Japanese committed 20,000 acts of rape in the first month of occupation, according to the Tokyo Tribunal on War Crimes, convened after World War II.
There are few tasks more daunting for a filmmaker than straddling the line between comedy and tragedy. It is hard enough to establish a tone for a movie without the added challenge of making the funny stuff and the melancholy moments work together like the ingredients of a magic potion.
This is the last outrage, what women do in secret, slipping their fingers under bras or nightgowns on wild, moon-driven nights, needing to true the circle of their breasts, wanting to lunge below desire, beneath arousal and beyond the sweet milk-happiness of feeding children to find the nuclear godawful contraband their bodies might be hiding—the refrain danger, danger, singing in their minds.
At dusk I slip into a pew, enthralled, alert, combing through the week to find what might destroy me, to send it away. Lawyer, accused, bent to root out scandal, my hands judging. And also, maybe guilty.
These waters, I must trouble for myself, in an age of the absence of angels, as I plunge, first of the day to break the lambent surface of the pool, and commence my daily reaching after miracles, swimming laps at almost eighty-one. The miracle I seek these recent years has been defined, and then refined, by that old friendly temporizer, “yet”; no longer seeking not-to-die-at-all, just not-to-die-quite-yet, to win a couple bonus years, in which to pen another poem or two, to pile a few more chosen words onto this heap I have—for Oh so long—been working on. Any healing that might come will clearly have to be short term. Until, that is, I reach the final turn, take up my beggar’s bed, and walk.