Nanking, a U.S.-made film documenting eyewitness accounts of atrocities committed by Japanese troops in China during World War Two, opened in Beijing on Tuesday, as the two countries struggle to mend strained ties.
The 90-minute movie, co-directed by Oscar-winner Bill Guttentag and producer Dan Sturman, will open in mainland China in general release on July 7, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Japan's full-scale invasion of China.
It is one of a raft of films about the Nanjing Massacre, commonly known as the Rape of Nanking, planned for release this year in the lead-up to the 70th anniversary of the fall of China's war-time capital to invading Japanese troops on December 13, 1937.
The crime and hatred of Japanese militarism left a deep scar on the Chinese people... and the memory will never fade away, said Gao Feng, president of CCDS, one of the film's co-distributors in China, prior to its screening at a theatre in western Beijing.
China says Japanese troops slaughtered 300,000 civilian men, women and children in Nanjing, then known as Nanking. An Allied tribunal after World War Two put the death toll at about 142,000.
But some Japanese historians say the 1937 massacre has been exaggerated and some conservatives deny there was even a massacre.
Produced by AOL vice-chairman, Ted Leonsis, who said he was inspired to make the film after reading Iris Chang's book Rape of Nanking, it focuses on an unlikely collaboration of U.S. missionaries and German Nazi businessmen who lived in Nanjing during the invasion and worked to set up a safe zone for Chinese refugees in the war-torn city.
Most Westerners don't know this movie but they should, co-director Guttentag said at the premiere. This is a film about the best and the worst of humanity.
Weaving grainy images of bomb-ravaged streetscapes and stacked bodies of infants, with tearful testimonies of rape and torture from Chinese witnesses, Nanking also includes confessions of participation in mass killings by Japanese soldiers.
Hollywood actors, including Woody Harrelson and Mariel Hemingway, do staged readings of diary entries kept by the Westerners in the safe zone. The writers talk of Chinese women cutting their hair and blackening their faces in a bid to avoid being raped.
The movie has drawn the ire of some conservative Japanese lawmakers who last month denounced it as propaganda and said the Nanjing massacre was a fabrication.
Some Japanese right-wing forces are trying to deny history... This film has given us a clear answer, Gao said.
Ties between the former foes, although recently on the mend, have long been dogged by what Beijing sees as Tokyo's refusal to acknowledge atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army in China between 1931 and 1945.
Nanking drew warm applause from Chinese viewers, several of whom were moved to tears.
Chen Erfan, a 30-year-old office worker, said the U.S. film-makers focused on themselves and did not show how the Chinese fought and contributed, but that that was understandable.
Personally, I don't think it could harm China-Japan ties but I believe it's good for China-U.S. relations, she said.