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Philosophy of a Knife (DVD Review)

8 Jun, 2008 By: Matt Miller

Prebook 6/10/08; Street 7/8/08

$19.99 DVD, $29.99 two-DVD set
Not rated.
Stars Tetsuro Sakagami, Elena Probatova, Yukari Fujimoto, Anatoly Protasov.

Philosophy of a Knife is the gruesome four-hour docu-horror film from experimental Russian director Andrey Iskanov. Broken into two parts, the film blends documentary footage with shockingly realistic re-enactments of the horrific experiments that took place before and during World War II in the underground Japanese research facility known as Unit 731 — from its beginnings in the 1930s, to the subsequent Khabarovsk war crime trials that implicated several members of the Japanese army.

Despite its controversial nature, Philosophy of a Knife sets out to accomplish two things: Show, in graphic detail, the extreme torture methods that were used to kill thousands of Chinese and Russian civilians and POWs in order to develop competitive biological and chemical weapons. And, simultaneously, reveal the internal struggle of the nurses, surgeons and soldiers who were responsible for carrying out these heinous acts as a duty for their homeland.

Though the subject matter in Philosophy of a Knife is horrendous, Iskanov manages to produce a beautifully shot and edited low-budget masterpiece that is best viewed in small doses. He pushes the limit on everything from its unsettling sound effects and music to its incredible special effects that make every torture scene look genuine — you really feel like you're in the room watching the experiments take place.

Adding to the film's authenticity is the running dialogue throughout by Protasov, a former doctor who translated the top-secret documents during the war-crimes trial.

Fans of extreme horror films such as Hostel and Faces of Death, as well as hardcore history buffs, will find Philosophy of a Knife much easier to watch. For the rest of us, the film is a shocking, educational journey into the atrocities behind perfecting the technology of death.

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