MEN BEHIND THE SUN opens with a preemptive strike against those who would criticize its portrayal of the Japanese during the waning months of World War 2. It begins, "Friendship is friendship, history is history", a kind of apology masking a deep well of rage. The film tells the true, but perhaps a bit stretched, story of the Japanese Manchuria Squadron 731 and their experiments on Chinese and Russian prisoners in an attempt to create new, devastating forms of biological weapons. While the atrocities on display (and there are many) were more than likely based on real events, MEN BEHIND THE SUN complicates its history lesson by adhering to the kinds of filmmaking practices usually found in the GUINEA PIG films. Though terrifying in nature, the presentation of these crimes inspires little real outrage. It feels more like amateur hour at the Grand Guignol.
MEN BEHIND THE SUN also dips toes in another style of filmmaking best left forgotten, the Mondo style practiced by Jacopetti, Prosperi and dozens of other morally bankrupt and opportunistic hacks. The film utilizes scenes of real violence and carnage (actual autopsy footage, animal violence, etc.) in an attempt to bolster the film's strength. It doesn't. What it does is push MEN BEHIND THE SUN down to the basest levels of exploitation. And it wasn't too far from that to begin with. While the real atrocities meted out by Deodato in the Green Inferno sequences of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST were undeniably horrifying to watch, they were essential to the film's critique of the Mondo practices of filmmaking. It literally had to become the kind of film it was demonizing. The true-to-life horrors within MEN BEHIND THE SUN do nothing to forward the plot or underline a point. They are extraneous to the narrative. Without them, MEN BEHIND THE SUN would have been no less intolerable. With them, the film becomes just another piece of manipulative trash, another disposable gag-fest with a muddled sense of moral purpose.
A good number of people on this wonderful contraption called the Internet seem all too quick in their praise of this film. The general consensus reached by these misguided people is that this film is a success almost solely because it shows the depths of depravity men can sink to in times of war. Is this some kind of a revelation to these people? Does anyone really need to be reminded of that? I'm not suggesting that we bury our heads in the sand and think only happy thoughts, but a film like MEN BEHIND THE SUN does not act as an indictment of war time cruelty. It acts as a celebration. Whatever grand moral message T. F. Mous had in mind when he made this piece of garbage is lost amidst the copious amounts of stage blood, mutilated corpses, and burning rats. Simple metaphors (is there really any other way to read the "cat being fed to the rats" scene) don't cut it here. Friendship might be friendship and history might be history, but exploiting the deaths of hundreds of innocent people for the sake of a Cat III piece of shit is another thing entirely.
MEN BEHIND THE SUN has become a cult classic over the years, no doubt because it has been relatively hard to see. Now that there are several DVD releases of the film in circulation, hopefully the reputation of the film will suffer as more and more people clue into the fact that this film is little more than wank fodder for the splatter crowd. If I had to pay MEN BEHIND THE SUN a compliment it would be this: it operates on such a profound level of stupidity and cruelty that one viewing will suffice. I would not like to meet the person who finds this film entertaining nor would I ever care to meet the person who would watch this film more than once. I wasn't offended by the content of the film. I was offended by the total disregard of and sympathy for the people it is supposedly vindicating. This is garbage of the highest order, a total sham perpetrated under the guise of responsible filmmaking.