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 T-34 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. Nadja was tasked with escorting Yang to headquarters, but their truck driver took a wrong turn and strayed into Japanese lines. Most of the occupants of the truck were killed in the ensuing skirmish but Nadja, a Soviet tank soldier and Yang escaped into a forested area.
As they crossed a bridge in the woods, they came under grenade attack from a teenage Japanese schoolgirl named Akiyoko and a fellow schoolgirl. The latter committed suicide in a wooden shed. They took Akiyoko captive and forced her to lead the three out of the vast forest as the girl knew her way out. Akiyoko brought the three to a minefield where the tank soldier was blown up by a landmine. Nadja was infuriated by Akiyoko's cunning, but decided not to kill her as she was their sole guide out of the forest and they had very little food.
At many points both Yang and Nadja were tempted to kill Akiyoko, but eventually saved her life from drowning 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 up with the Soviet troops, Akiyoko convinced Yang moving south was the only way out of the forest. At one point, Nadja strayed from her two partners whilst searching for food and got lost, but was able to find her way back after hearing Yang firing her PPSh-41 machine pistol at an attacking tiger.
Eventually the three found their way to the same location where they discovered Akiyoko, and they realized they have been tricked by Akiyoko. A tearful Akiyoko 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 up back at the abandoned army truck which they had earlier abandoned after the skirmish with the Japanese troops, where the radio began to announce Emperor Hirohito's unconditional surrender to the Allied troops. Akiyoko, shocked by Japan's loss, grabbed the PPSh-41 Nadja had with her and took aim at Yang and Nadja. Yang advanced on her, placing the muzzle of the machine pistol against his chest. Akiyoko was unable to pull the trigger, and convulsed into sobs. Nadja then discovered that Yang had removed the cartridges from the SMG before Akiyoko picked it up.
The war having now ended, Yang urged Akiyoko to go back to Japan and live a good life. Akiyoko decided to return to find her childhood sweetheart, who was conscripted as a fighter pilot by the Japanese air force. 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. Akiyoko mistakenly thought they were not informed of the surrender and ran to stop their foolish acts, but was shot by a Japanese captain at her head. Her okiagari-koboshi doll rolled out of her grasp and she died.
Consumed by fury and vengeance, Yang and Nadja mounted the army truck and attacked the remaining Japanese soldiers, who were charging at them. After all of these were killed, Yang picked up Akiyoko's okiagari-koboshi doll. The film then fast-forwards to present day where an elderly, wheelchair-bound Nadja places flowers on Poklonnaya Gora war memorial with the gigantic numerals "1945" to commemorate Akiyoko'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 - Akiyoko
Anna Dzenilalova - Nadja