An old-fashioned Sino-Japanese war drama in pseudo-modernist wrappings, “The Noblest Way to Die” will do just that beyond home base Taiwan. Opening promise of a thoughtful reassessment of yesterday’s enemies soon degrades into phony moral posturing and jawbreaking hysteria.
Film is basically a huge flashback, narrated by the grandson of Inegawa, an aged Japanese who returns to southern China in 1990 to pay his respects to the Chinese dead of World War II. Back in 1939, Inegawa, then a young lieutenant, had captured a Chinese guerrilla, T’ien Shih, and locked him up with an old Shanghainese, Uncle Ch’uan.
Inegawa slowly gains respect for T’ien and promises him he’ll live if he admits he’s a spy. But his superior, Inoue, a neo-samurai loon, is more interested in breaking his prisoners, finally sodomizing T’ien and raping Inegawa’s half-Manchu g.f.
Despite some careful, often good-looking direction, pic is fatally flawed by its melodramatic script and cardboard characters. Second half is largely a lip-smacking succession of torture scenes. Acting by the no-name cast is standard. Tech credits are OK.