Long have I been waiting for Iskanov’s psycho-medical envisioning of the horrific events that took place at Unit 731. This latest outing of Iskanov might be his magnum opus. Driven by archive footage, narrated to explain the timeline, and part feature, POAK is a true documentary, for it takes you into things that should never be forgotten.
For those of you who have no idea about the incident, what happened was that the Japanese set up a classified facility that housed some of the worst experimentations and chemical warfare crimes of the century. These were carried out on Russian and Chinese P.O.W’s between the years of 1937 - 1945. The purpose was to form weapons against China and possibly Bolshevik Russia. As we can see from some of the tortures; they seemed hardly educational but served their purpose as meaningless and revolting. For example; injecting horse urine into a human kidney.
The film is about 4 hours long, which spans two episodes; which should be finished over the span of a day or two. Many of the films that explain the same atrocities contain too many elements of trash and exploitation. For example, Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre didn’t focus on the history or the atrocities; it was just like a violent over the top Jonathan Taylor Thomas film.
Men Behind The Sun is guilty of the same thing, but still manages to be an exceptional film. POAK opens with two Japanese soldiers escorting a lone Russian POW through thick snow, before executing him by way of the blade. The realist performances enough are alone to initiate brainstorming. Much of the film is archived footage, so Iskanov being the new wave genius that he is, films many of the brutal scenes the same way.
Through out the film, many horrible acts of putrid experimentation are being done, and it is hard to pick out between the real and the fake. There is no way around it, Philosophy of a Knife is the most violent and harrowing film I have ever seen, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Iskanov mixed with Shevchenko is the formula for the editing, which is at hand here. Many scratches and artificial debris clutter the screen, but only adds to the superficial beauty of it.
The opening credits alone are a wet dream for all lovers of the macabre. Iskanov hand wraps this film with the feel of a Japanese film, including scrawling Japanese symbols mixing with bizarre blueprints of medical tools and torture devices. Large black-goggled men are dimly lit with luminescence set to a droning track of blips and beeps. A master soundtrack at the core, I haven’t enjoyed a handcrafted soundtrack such as this since Tetsuo: The Iron Man.
Manoush (From Amelie and Cannibal) plays a narration role of the female nurse, who is one of the tortured ones, but for the wrong reasons; she is directly involved with what is at hand. She performs bizarre sexual experiments, which cause her to lose her sanity. It shows how one sided this situation was. If you weren’t with the Japanese, you weren’t with anything; they made sure of that. Iskanov recorded over 13,000 sound effects for this film, none of them being used twice. A completely fresh feeling, mixed with horrible sadness.
The film chronicles the experimentations and tortures committed by the Japanese, giving us an unflinching eye as to what was afoot in the real “Death Camp”. Sexually transmitted diseases, pounds of plagues and tons of cholera were used in association with creating a plague shrapnel bomb that was to be used with a biological WMD. Scenes of narration on the historical aspect are intertwined with interview scenes from Anatoliy Protasov who experienced this all as a doctor of medicine, then scenes of soldier’s interactions with the victims and the sorts of tortures.
The beautiful thing about the variety of tortures in this film is the attention to every detail. Instead of being a splatter fest, we see it like it actually is. Instead of the highly unlikely intestinal discharge in MBTS, we are given the real deal, with bubbling flesh, eye stress, and the ultimate flesh-fire.
These scenes show that not everyone really had a say in this. Most of the soldiers seem to come from the invaded town of Manchuria. Each horrific scene is spliced with even more unnerving footage of deterioration and madness. Philosophy of a Knife is biological insanity printed on film. It is really as simple as that. There will never be another film like this one. The set pieces of the film compliment the age-old incident. Ancient machines decorate the stained furniture and walls.
On a technical side of the film, it is bathed in a starkly glorious light, which really expunges the colors and textures of the mutilation and tortures. This also serves its purpose as it magnifies the facial expressions of many of the doctors and victims. When the most graphic torture scenes ever filmed are over, morbidly poetic scenes of destruction then assault us. It presents itself with utmost importance, just to remind us that there are “no such things as monsters”.
Pointing out that this film is indeed a highly regarded film in my eyes, it doesn’t mean it is always entertaining. Just as history is, segments will move slower than others. Watching this film for the gore value would be enough, but you’d miss the complete experience of it. A word of advice; don’t walk into this film expecting a bloody romp with a colorful cast of dysfunctional characters. If you just want to just see some more “fucked up shit”, you are almost stooping as low as the monstrosities depicted in this film. Andrey Iskanov is a pure-bred surrealist that is taking the world by storm. Whether you are on his side is your choice.