Ziri (Purple Sunset) (2001)
Director: Jiaoning Feng.
Starring: Anna Dzenilalova (Nadja), Dalong Fu (Yang), Chie Maeda (Akibako), Xuewei Wang (Onishi).
Chinese film about a Russian female soldier, a Chinese civilian and a Japanese school girl having to work together to get out of a forest, despite their mutual distrust
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
A Chinese man talks to his grandfather. The Japanese grabbed him in Guandong, Northeast of China. The Japanese accused him of being an 8th Route Army soldier. He asks grandfather how was life in the Japanese prison camp? Grandfather looks down at a Japanese music box in an egg-shape.
Mt. Grand Xingan, northest of China, August 1945. The Chinese prisoners had to wear shackles on their legs.
August 9, 1945. USSR declares war on Japan. The 6th Tank Group Army of the USSR charges the Japanese Guandong Army on Mt. Grand Xingan. The Japanese commander looks out onto the flat plain and sees the whole area covered with Soviet tanks coming right at them. He estimates it's 300 Russian tanks. In addition, Russian airplanes fill the sky.
A group of Chinese prisoners, men and women, are taken to a high wall and executed by machine gun fire.
The Japanese are using their artillery as anti-tank weapons. But the Japanese are taking a real beating, especially from the sky.
Another group of Chinese prisoners is executed by the high wall.
In the battle the Japanese get desperate and their soldiers, strapped with satchels of explosives, run to the Soviet Tanks and go under them, detonating their explosives. A lot of the suicide bombers are killed before they reach the tanks, but quite a few soldiers are able to explode their satchels. The tanks soon overrun the Japanese trenches.
A third group of prisoners are executed. One prisoner, Yang, survives and he stands up waiting to be shot down. Before the machine guns can fire again, a Soviet tanks breaks right through the high wall and sends the firing squad scurrying away.
The Russians pour into the area. A Russian soldier brings the Chinese survivor Yang to see the Lt. Colonel. The officer asks the fellow a couple of questions, but the man just stands there as if in shock. The officer throws him some shoes to put on his feet.
Moscow Broadcasting Station, July 26, 1945. The Allies are negotiating an end of the war in the Pacific. Peace is expected to come soon.
A group of three Soviet armored personnel carriers are trailing behind some tanks. The driver asks a soldier named Shakov if he knows whose tanks are those in front of them? No. Aboard are a lot of wounded men. The Chinese rescued prisoner is in one of the vehicles.
It looks like the tanks they are following are Japanese. An announcement is made in the Japanese prisoner camp that the Russian army has occupied Hailaer. An officer yells to the Japanese that they must fight to protect Manchuria and Japan. The children will dig trenches and the older youngsters will join their elders at the front line. The officer yells that they have 800,000 people, the strongest army in the world. Just then the Russian armored personnel carriers arrive at the camp and start shooting the Japanese soldiers. The Japanese spokesperson tells the civilians to head into the forests.
The fighting becomes intense. A lot of Russian soldiers die as they jump out of their armored vehicles. They start running into the forest for some cover. Japanese tanks start blowing up lots of the trees behind which the Russians have taken cover. The Russians are returning fire very well, but they are outnumbered by the Japanese soldiers. The Chinese survivor and others keep running and running away from the Japanese. The escape group has been whittled down to three people: two Russians, one a woman named Nadja, and the Chinese survivor Yang. The Chinese man saved the life of the Russian female soldier. She motions with her head for the Chinese fellow to follow them.
The vehicle driver with a submachine gun crosses the bridge very slowly, his weapon at the ready. As he gets close to the other side of the bridge, a grenade is thrown at him that lands within arm's reach, but it doesn't explode. The Russian soldier now starts shooting up the guard house on the other side of the river by the bridge. When he kicks the door open he only finds two Japanese girls in their school uniforms inside. One of the girls must have been hit because she falls over dead. The driver kicks the surviving girl in the face, knocking her out against the wall behind her. Nadja and Yang now reach the guard house. The driver picks up a Japanese bayonet and is going to kill the surviving girl. The Russian woman tells him not to kill her. They can use her as a guide because they are in Japanese territory.
The Japanese girl is tied up and held on a long rope used as a leash. Her mouth is gagged. She leads the way for the three enemies of her country. She brings them to a barbed wire fence. They get passed the fence, but find that the has led them into a Japanese mine field. She stops before a mine, but doesn't say or do anything. The Russian driver spots the mine. He gets angry at the girl and slugs her in the face knocking her out. He now gets down and uncovers the mine. They can hear shots coming from behind them. The driver heads forward moving mines out of the way. He whistles for the others to join him, but as they rush forward the driver steps on a mine and is killed.
Nadja is really upset at the loss of her comrade. She starts shooting at the Japanese girl until she starts running across the field. The follow follow the path of the Japanese girl and get across the field and into the woods. They were lucky because the Japanese just arrived and started shooting at them from the other end of the mine field.
The three reach a river. The Russian woman drops off her bedding on the other side of the river, but decides that they must hide from the Japanese soldiers on the side of the river closest to the Japanese. They do so and the Japanese walk passed them without seeing them. When they find the bedding of the Russian soldier, they figure that the escapees have already crossed the river and gone on. On the ground Yang holds a cloth against the school girl's mouth and nose and unknowingly almost kills her. He releases the material in an attempt to revive her. She revives, but then starts to scream. The material is again thrust against her mouth. A Japanese soldier hears the scream and looks back to see where the scream came from. But then some birds start screeching and he figures it was just one of the noisy birds.
Nadja wants Yang to kill the Japanese girl. He tries, but he just can't kill her.
Flashback. Yang and a Chinese woman (perhaps his mother) are tied up against posts. The Japanese man in charge orders a Japanese soldier to bayonet the female. The soldier can't seem to bring himself to stick her with his bayonet. Yang is really cursing out the Japanese in his language, but it seems to have no effect on the Japanese leader. He goes over to the Japanese soldier and slaps his face several times. He then slugs the soldier in the mouth for being afraid to kill. Given the order again, the Japanese soldiers stabs the woman three times with his bayonet.
Back to the present. The Japanese girl and Yang both start crying. Yang returns to Nadja and drops the Japanese sword by her. He keeps on walking. The Russian woman follows him. After awhile, he turns back and releases the Japanese school girl. Now the three of them walk together.
As narrator, grandfather says that Nadja's food bag was their only source of nourishment and there is really only enough food for two people, not three. At night they prepare food over a fire. Yang gives the Japanese music box taken from the girls to Nadja. She plays the music box. Up to then Yang didn't know what the big egg-shaped object was. As the Japanese girl watches and listens to the music box, she remembers back to her recent past.
Flashback. June 1945, Northeast of China. A group of Japanese boys and girls are being harangued by a Japanese military officer. He is pumping up their warrior spirit with his shouts and yells. He yells that their government has declared a nationwide request for Mandatory Military Duties. All girls over age 17 will join the troops, while boys age 15 or more will join either the army or the navy.
Back to the present. The Japanese girl Akiyoko gets soup from Nadja and her music box from Yang. The next day they set off walking with the Akiyoko girl still tied up and gagged. They start crossing the swamp on a log, Yang loses his balance and the girl falls into the water. She begs for assistance with her eyes and hand gestures. Yang goes and get the submachine gun and holds it out for the Japanese girl to grab it. She finally grabs it, but Yang loses his grip on it. Now the girl holds the weapon. Yang pictures her shooting him and Nadja, but she does not. She waits for him to grab the barrel again. He does and and gets the girl out.
Nadja gives Akiyoko some soup, but she gives it over to Yang for saving her life. Yang looks at her and remembers.
Flashback. Yang remembers having to load dead Chinese prisoners into the back of Japanese trucks. The bodies were taken to a river. Yang had to help put the bodies in large sacks and throw them into the river. One Chinese prisoner is not dead, so the Japanese put him into a sack. Someone throws some type of fuel on the man and the sack is lit on fire. A grenade is attached to the sack and the sack is then rolled into the river. After a brief moment the grenade goes off.
Back to the present. Yang gets a strange look on his face that scares Akiyoko.. He hits the soup container with his hand and some of it splashes onto Akiyoko. He then holds his head in his two hands and cries about what he had to witness.
As narrator, Yang says that on the third day they walked out of the forest. But when they reach a high spot they see miles and miles of forest before them. Nadja starts walking north and the other two follow her because she has the bag of grain. A Japanese plane is shot down. It crashes on the open plain. Akiyoko runs to another high point to look. She cries as the plane explodes.
A little later she sees smoke and runs to it. Nadja points her weapon at her back, but does not shoot. She says to Yang that they will be better off without her. But now Yang starts taking off on his own. Again Nadja can't bring herself to kill. She lets him go, but soon gets frightened at the thought of being alone. So she runs to catch up with Yang.
Akiyoko reaches the top of a large ridge, but sees something there that shocks her.
Yang continues walking through a meadow. All of a sudden he sees a fire on the plain. And there is Akyoko running toward him and away from the fire. They run together. Now they run into Nadja and the three of them run together. The fire is too fast for them. Akiyoko starts a back fire and then the three of them lay down on the burned area as the larger fire sputters out. The three survive the ordeal. They laugh together. Yang says that Akiyoko speaks Chinese. He looks menacingly at her, but he only cuts her ropes from off her hands. Now, for the first time, they find out her name is Akiyoko. They find out that she came to China at the age of 4. She lives in Mt. Grand Xingan and knows a lot about lumber farms. Her father is a farmer and only joined the Japanese army a little while ago.
With sticks Akiyoko diagrams the layout of the land. She points to the area where there are people and food. She suggests they go this way. Nadja says no. They have to go north because that's where the Russians are. She says they have to listen to her because she is a second lieutenant in the Soviet army. Yang says no, because the girl can find the way out of the wilderness. Again Nadja raises her weapon, but she soon puts it back down. And once again, Nadja has to follow them.
As narrator, grandfather says if they had followed Nadja, they would have perished in the forest. The grandson asks if Nadja still lives? Grandfather says yes, she lives in Moscow.
Flash forward. The grandson is in Moscow. He hands Nadja (older now and in a wheel chair) the music box and asks her if she remembers it? Nadja gets a big smile on her face.
Back to the present. Nadja remembers back to the time they were caught in the forest. She remembers thinking that they didn't want to die just before peace was established. So they walked on. And she remembers them always having to search for a food source. Akiyoko was still very much a girl and Nadja says it is hard to believe what happened to her later.
Akiyoko remembers back to June, 1945.
Flashback. Akiyoko stands out in the field with the other young people in the pouring rain. The spokesman says they are all soldiers now and they will all fight on the front lines. She remembers going back home and grabbing her music box. She then runs back to try to catch up with her boyfriend's unit, but the truck pulls out just before she can reach it. She stands in the rain crying.
Back to the present. A storm is coming. Nadja realizes that she is lost and she starts running hysterically in search of the other two. Akiyoko tells Yang to fire the weapon into the air. Yang won't do it for fear of attracting the Japanese. The next day they see a tiger coming toward them. Yang doesn't know how to fire the submachine gun, but he won't let Akiyoko (who has had some military training) fire it either. The tiger attacks. Luckily, when Yang falls down he releases the safety and the gun fires. This scares the tiger away.
Nadja hears the submachine gun fire. She walks toward the sound the the gunfire. When she sees Yang she runs to him and starts kissing him all over his face. Akiyoko seems a bit jealous. But now they really start trusting each other. Nadja and Akiyoko start throwing water on each other while washing in the river. While the two women dry themselves by laying in the sun, Yang learns to take apart and put back together the weapon. But when he starts taking a grenade apart, Nadja saves all their lives by kicking the grenade into the river.
There no longer are Japanese planes in the sky. There are planes of the Allies, but they never spotted the people on the ground. The three run to the top of another ridge and see a beautiful sunset. Akiyoko shouts: "Look, what a purple sun it is!"
They finally come to the old Japanese prisoner camp. Yang says that Akiyoko deliberately led them in a circle back to where they started. He holds the bayonet up to her throat. He asks what's her next move? She says she will take them to surrender. Yang starts walking over to the camp. Akiyoko runs around looking into tents and buildings, but everyone has left. Nadja goes into one of the armored personnel vehicles and finds some food. She screams with joy and then screams for Yang to come over. He comes over and grabs some food. Meanwhile, Nadja gets in the driver's seat and starts up the vehicle. The radio is on. The Chinese broadcaster says that the Chinese troops will soon join forces with the Soviet army at Doulun. Nadja searches for and finds a Moscow station.
She takes some food to give to Akiyoko, but Akiyoko is holding the submachine gun on her. Yang gets out of the truck and starts walking over to Akiyoko. She cries, but doesn't pull the trigger. Yang presses the barrel right up to his chest daring her to shoot. She just cries some more and drops the weapon. There was, however, something that Yang knew that Akiyoko didn't know. He had pulled out all the bullets in the bullet canister.
Now Akiyoko hears that the Japanese are going to surrender to the Allies at once. The war is over. Nadja runs naked and jumps into the river to take a swim. Akiyoko tells Yang that she is very afraid and wants to go with him. She says she could re-unite with her boyfriend Oonishi. Yang cries that the Japanese came to China and killed so many innocent people for no reason at all. He asks her why? She says she is sorry. This makes Yang even madder. A sorry can't bring back all those innocent lives. Akiyoko says she didn't kill anyone! Yang says she tried to get him and Nadja killed. She took them to the mine field, led them to the Japanese military camp and threatened to kill them with the submachine gun a few minutes ago. Akiyoko finally says that her nation always told them to kill their enemies. She screams: ". . . my people are all swindlers!" She runs away.
Flashback. Nadja swimming in the water remembers war memories from years back. Memories of a little boy and a German plane being shot down and landing in the town.
Back to the present. Yang tells Akiyoko to go back to Japan and live happily and peacefully ever after. She thanks Yang and tells him that from now on she will tell Japanese people that the Chinese and Russian people are good people. She now tells Yang that in the war she lost her mother and sister and wants Yang to be her brother. Again he tells her to go back to Japan and have a happy and peaceful life.
Flash forward. Nadja later learns that ". . . Oonishi was sacrificed in the last navy team." August 16, 1945, Kyushu, Japan. The Japanese unit of pilots is going to sacrifice their lives to prove their loyalty to their emperor. They are to crash their planes into the enemy battleships. Oonishi can't believe what he is hearing. They go up in the air, but many are soon knocked out of the skies by American airplanes and anti-aircraft fire. One airplane and then another reaches its target. Oonishi tries to jump out of his plane, but the cockpit is sealed shut. His group leader shoots him down and he crashes into the sea.
Back to the present. The three survivors drive the Russian armored personnel carrier along a road. They stop for awhile for a break. Over the radio comes the news that Marshal Wasilievsky cabled Commander Yamata and ordered all Japanese troops to drop arms and weapons. The Japanese laid down their arms.
A Japanese unit that has to surrender starts killing themselves and each other with their weapons. The three survivors watch from a hill. Even children and babies are killed. Akiyoko says that the Japanese didn't hear about the surrender. She screams and anyone left still living looks toward the hill. Akiyoko runs down the hill shouting that the war is over and no one needs to sacrifice themselves any more. Akiyoko is shot and killed. Her music box rolls down the hill.
Nadja drives the armored vehicle down into the midst of the Japanese. Yang gets ready to fire on the Japanese soldiers who are still killing people. He sticks his upper body out of the top of the vehicle and starts mowing down Japanese soldiers. The crazy Japanese attack the the vehicle. Nadja runs right over the Japanese commander who attacked the vehicle with only his sword. They saved a lot of Japanese citizens.
The Japanese finally surrender officially. The Japanese soldiers who are still alive throw down their weapons..
September 2, 2000. The music box was sent back to Mt. Grand Xingan on Yang's will.
"During World War II, a total of 74 million human beings were killed. The deaths recorded:
1.7 million Yugoslavian
2 million Japanese
6 million Persian
7 million German
20 million Russian, and
35 million Chinese. "
Good film. Enjoyed it. It's partly a survival film set in Manchuria during World War II. One Russian woman, one Chinese man and one Japanese girl take a long walking trip through the forests of Manchuria in search of safety and survival. But it's more than a survival against nature film. The Russian soldier and the Chinese fellow can't really trust the Japanese girl who was brought up on that crazy Japanese killer mentality. And then they have to be careful not to run into more Japanese troops. The film nicely illustrates the utter brutality of the Japanese toward their prisoners and that maniacal war culture of theirs. The story of the three main characters is interesting as is their survival journey, even though one of them doesn't make it through the entire adventure. The acting was good. The character of Yang as played by Dalong Fu usually had a strange sneer on his face, that strangely didn't get him killed by the Japanese, but he began to relax over time and lost it.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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