Purple Sunset (Chinese: 紫日; pinyin: Zĭrì) is a 2001 Chinese film written and directed by Feng Xiaoning. Feng also acted as the film's cinematographer.
Purple Sunset is an anti-war film set in August 1945, at the time when the Japanese were in the throes of defeat during World War II and losing control of mainland China. The film won Best Special Effects at the Huabiao Awards and Best Cinematography at the Golden Rooster Award. It was also voted Best Feature by the audience during the 2001 Hawaii International Film Festival. Feng considered it the last of his "War and Peace" (战争与和平) trilogy, preceded by Red River Valley (1997), and Lovers' Grief over the Yellow River (1999).
The film begins with a flashback of an elderly Chinese man Yang in 2000 who is interviewed and who begins reminiscing about the Second Sino-Japanese War, prompted on by a journalist. He grasps an old okiagari-koboshi musical doll which brings his memories back to August 1945, near the end of the war.
In 1945 Yang, a Hebei peasant in his 30s, was captured by Japanese imperial soldiers, and was brought to the Daxing'anling area near Manchuria (bordering the Soviet Union) after the Japanese slaughtered his aged mother. He was put in a firing squad to be executed. The firing killed everyone in line but Yang. As the Japanese soldiers reloaded their machine gun, a Soviet military tank knocked over the wall against which the captives were lined. Yang was the sole survivor and was put under the charge of Nadja, a young female Soviet lieutenant and her comrades. As Nadja escorted him to the headquarters, their truck was ambushed by the Japanese and Nadja, a fellow Soviet comrade and Yang escaped to a forested area.
As they moved in the woods uncertainly, they came across a teenage Japanese schoolgirl named Akibako who was about to commit suicide with a fellow schoolmate in a wooden shed. They took her captive and made her to bring the three out of the vast forest as the girl knew her way out. Akibako brought the three to a minefield where Nadja's partner was blown up by a landmine. Nadja was infuriated by Akibako's cunning, but decided not to kill Akibako as she was their sole guide out of the forest with insufficient food.
At many points both Yang and Nadja were tempted to kill Akibako, but eventually saved her life from sinking to her death in a quagmire. Conflicting feelings of mistrust and friendship dogged all three as they rely on one another to survive. Although Nadja wanted to move north to meet with the Soviet troops, Akibako convinced Yang to move south was the only way out of the desolate woods. At one point Nadja happened to stray from her other two partners, but managed to meet them later.
Eventually the three found their way to the same location where they discovered Akibako, and they realized they have been tricked by Akibako. A tearful Akibako explained she was trying to get them to surrender to the Japanese troops so that they could get food and lodging at the camp. The three ended at an empty army truck, where the radio began to announce Emperor Hirohito's unconditional surrender to the Allied troops. Akibako, shocked by Japan's loss, grabbed the PPSh-41 Nadja had with her and took aim at Yang and Nadja. However, she was unable to pull the trigger, and convulsed into sobs. Nadja learned later that Yang had removed the cartridge from the SMG earlier on.
The war having now ended, Yang urged Akibako to go back to Japan and live a good life. Akibako decided to return to find her childhood sweetheart, who was conscripted as a fighter pilot by the Japanese airforce. The three then witnessed a group of Japanese soldiers and civilians committing mass suicide as they could not accept the fact their country had surrendered. Akibako mistakenly thought they were not informed of the surrender and ran to halt their foolish acts, but was shot dead by a Japanese officer. Her okiagari-koboshi doll rolled out of her grasp and she died.
Consumed by fury, Yang and Nadja mounted the army truck, machine-gunning and overrunning the rest of the suiciding Japanese soldiers. After all were killed or had committed suicide, Yang picked up Akibako's okiagari-koboshi doll. The film then fast forwards to present day where an elderly Nadja places flowers on Poklonnaya Gora war memorial with the gigantic numerals "1945" to commemorate Akibako's death. The film then flashes back to 1945, where a voice from the truck's radio read out a declaration of peace and harmony, as the remaining Japanese troops threw their arms away in the purple sunset. A statistic of World War II casualties rolls up at the credit.
Fu Dalong - Yang,
Chie Maeda - Akibako,
Anna Dzenilalova - Nadja