Philosophy of a Knife (2008)

Philosophy of a Knife reviewReviwed by Scott A. Johnson

Starring Yukari Fujimoto, Yumiko Fujiwara, Svyatoslav Illiyasov

Directed by Andrey Iskanov

In a broad, general sense, there are two types of films: Those meant to inform, called “documentaries,” and those meant to entertain, which, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll call “movies.” You know the drill: both types have their good and bad, the exciting and the boring, the entertaining and the pretentious. What happens sometimes is some well-meaning, film-school “artist” tries to meld the two together into something both informative and entertaining. More often than not, the auteur fails. Seldom, however, do they fail so miserably as in Philosopy of a Knife.

Operating under the pretense of telling about a World War II era Japanese unit who tortured prisoners and carried out experiments that would make Jigsaw cringe, it begins on an interesting enough note with a few pieces of file footage spliced together with an interview of a Russian man who lived nearby during the time. Shortly after (let’s say thirty minutes into the movie), viewers begin to realize what this movie really is: Pretentious, mean-spirited, and full of enough garbage to make this just a bad movie. Not bad in a good way, either, just bad.

So let’s start at the beginning, shall we? The opening scene is an art-school noir rendition of an asexual Japanese officer hiking through the snow. Many close-ups, many pensive looks, many … close-ups of pensive looks. It turns out he’s walking about with a prisoner so he can cut his head off. It takes them five minutes of film time to find a suitable place, during which time the viewer is slowly slipping into a coma. Then comes the opening credits. Damn you, Seven, for your hip opening credit scene that made every film-school dandy feel the need to be “edgy.” After the longest opening credits in film history (I think, though they could have just seemed that long), we get a hard-to-understand narrative telling us a great deal of useless information, followed by a little bit about the fabled Japanese unit. That’s as good as it gets. Get this, we’re fifteen minutes into this pile of steaming excrement and all we’ve had is pensive soldier, bad credits, and mumbly-accented narrative.

To begin with, all the re-enactments are poorly acted, poorly executed, and serve no real purpose. Sure, they’re designed to show the viewer what MAY have gone on inside the dreaded compound, but they come across as just intending to shock. Among my favorite scenes intended to make your skin crawl are the two babies who are sewn together, the forced C-section delivery of a stillborn baby, and the ten-minute scene in which a Japanese nurse blythly twangs on a Jews-Harp (you know, one of those weird little things Snoopy played? Nevermind…) while some joker in the background hacks apart bodies with a hatchet. Oh yes, there are close-ups a-plenty of fake heads being smashed, fake skin being cut, and Monty-Python-esque blood being sprayed liberally about, but the effects are about as believable as those you’d get from a Halloween prop-shop. If the production didn’t take itself so damned seriously, it might be laughable. As it stands, the movie is uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons.

Moving on, the movie features many long and rambling interviews with a Russian doctor who lived near the compound in his youth. NEAR the compound. He never saw inside, never witnessed the atrocities, but he did go picking mushrooms by it and was warned away. Combine his commentary with the voice-over of a Japanese nurse who fears for her soul for all the crimes committed against the victims (notice, she never prays for the victims, only for herself), and we have two very annoying, and mostly unlikable, pieces to this movie.

Then there’s the whole subject of realism. It’s a documentary, supposedly, right? First, concentration camp prisoners usually don’t look like film-school students. Typically, they look emaciated, mistreated, malnourished, or at least dirty. They don’t look like girls you’d see on Amateur Auditions #12. Concentration camp victims, and I could be wrong about this but I don’t think I am, didn’t really have time to trim their pubes into landing strips. In addition to the overly hygienic actresses, the special effects are just bad. Skin being torn away, limbs being hacked off and obviously faked torsos being cut open are only part of the fun to be had in this affront to film, and none of it looks real. Most of it, in fact, looks laughably bad.

Running at two hours would be bad enough, but wait, there’s more! There’s a SECOND DVD, which means the whole thing clocks in at four hours of mind-assaulting crap. Most documentaries, even when well done, can’t hold an audience’s attention for more than an hour. This one just degenerates into the director’s own masturbatory decent into seeing just how much depraved shit he can get his actresses to do, or how much he thinks the audience will watch. Witness, if you must, the simulated rape scene between a cute concentration-camp prisoner (?!?!) and a young emo syphilis sufferer. Not enough? There’s the painfully fake scene of another young and cute prisoner getting her teeth ripped out. Oh, still doesn’t push the envelope enough? How bout the big one, the young actress who, along with closeups of her nether-naughty-bits, gets a huge cockroach inserted in her coochie! Nope, not kidding, and somehow I bet she believes it was “art.” Still, that pales in comparison to the greatest insult the director heaped on us, the “love story” between the Japanese guard and the (third) young and cute prisoner.

As a reviewer, one tries to find a few positive things to say about each film. Congratulations are in order for Philosophy of a Knife in that it succeeded in being the crappiest pile of masturbatory, art-house wannabe, pedantic and mean-spirited shit I’ve ever had the displeasure of watching. We all know that war happens, and there are no angels in war. This film’s purpose, however, seems to have been to paint the Japanese as monsters, to foster still more anger and hatred for things that happened more than six decades ago. All it succeeds in doing, however, is making the audience feel cheated out of four hours of their lives.


0 out of 5

Discuss Philosophy of a Knife in the Dread Central forums!

Box of Dread
*Some International Shipping now available!

Scott A. Johnson

  • frank_dracman

    Let’s not get Dr. Boll involved here, people. He’s gonna have enough trouble when Postal hits DVD. I can’t wait.

  • Chainsaw

    Also, on a serious point, I was thinking today that if they had canned the graphic recreations, the movie would be more compelling to watch.

  • Chainsaw



  • Sam Hell

    All your base are belong to that fucking freak named Scott A. Johnson.

  • Messiahman

    Uh-oh, it looks like Scott (that sneaky capitalist dog) may have inadvertently restarted the Cold War with his review.

    Director Andrey Iskanov just launched a return salvo on his MySpace blog. By the way, for some true hilarity, as you read this, imagine the words being spoken by Boris Badenov from ROCKY & BULLWINKLE (sorry, I just couldn’t resist)

    Here it is:

    Amateriush and idiotic review of Philosophy of a knife from dreadcentral!

    Thats first bad review of POAK, by the way and when somebody tries write about things about which he has no the slightest understanding, from my side, it can cause only fair irritation!

    But that asshole wrote a lot shit about me and my film!
    Besides other, he writes there also:”Then there’s the whole subject of realism. It’s a documentary, supposedly, right? First, concentration camp prisoners usually don’t look like film-school students. Typically, they look emaciated, mistreated, malnourished, or at least dirty. They don’t look like girls you’d see on Amateur Auditions 12. Concentration camp victims, and I could be wrong about this but I don’t think I am, didn’t really have time to trim their pubes into landing strips.”

    Boy, you didnt know ANYTHING ABOUT UNIT 731!
    Its was NOT ANY concentration camp!
    Its was not not german or soviet camp of death!
    Its was secret military base with small prison inside! The prison was designed for 100 person and was never filled completely!
    All prisoners there had fine meal and service! Nobody humiliated them and did not force to work.
    All prisoners should be absolutely healthy!
    There one lack of service was only – on them put experiments.

    Author of review also wrote very disrespectful things about original true facts which Anatoly Protasov (the former military translator of the international court of case of Unit 731) tells in my film!
    Anatoly not only participated in all interrogations of doctors from Unit 731. Also believe my word, I HAVE NOT TOLD ALL FACTS WHICH THIS PERSON KNOWS, But he knows much more, than I can dare to tell today in the film both from reasons of privacy and my own safety I cant inform today the truth.
    But this person not simply collected mushrooms near to Unit 731!

    In the film I tried to show ONLY the FACTS. And for me its very insulting, when some stupid bastard reproaches me, when hes dont know actually absolute ANYTHING!
    All review is just shit on me and my film from that fucking freak named Scott A. Johnson.
    Author of this shitty review is not only the idiot, he also simply fucking amateur!!

    • Sirand

      It’s like reading an Uwe Boll rant.

      • Uncle Creepy

        “All review is just shit on me and my film from that fucking freak named Scott A. Johnson.”

        How I wish I could get a quote like that!

      • Blockbuster

        I think Mr. Boll has a lot more class.

    • NVK

      Disregard anything.

  • Messiahman

    Hmm, how strange. The user comments on that Sirand pointed out on the IMDB have mysteriously vanished. Heavens, I wonder how THAT happened.

    Better yet, a positive “review” from Dread Central (that apparently doesn’t come from this site at all) has been posted on Amazon.com shortly after the producer (and director, on his blog) launched personal attacks on a reviewer who was only doing his job. Newsflash – criticizing acting and directing isn’t personal; that’s part of what reviews do. Scott didn’t personally attack anyone — that’s what *you* did. Hell, even your “apology” was a condescending “We’re going to Sitges, so screw you” diatribe.

    Congratulations, Mr. Biro. You are the heir apparent to widely derided shills extraordinaire Nick Palumbo and David DeFalco. Such fine company you’re in. 😀

    Oh, and didn’t MEN BEHIND THE SUN already beat you to the punch on the subject matter by twenty years? Way to stay ahead of the curve, man!

    (cue the laughable “but…but we’re the first `gore-mentary’ response” — in spite of the fact that FACES OF DEATH only beat you to that by THIRTY years)

  • NVK


  • Tristan Sinns

    Simpsons did it!

    By “Simpsons” I mean “Men Behind the Sun”.

  • Sirand

    Wanna see something hilarious? Go look at the IMDB user comments for this movie. Here are some excerpts:

    “Philosophy of a Knife one of the most powerful films ever made”

    “Philosophy of a Knife pulls no punches and will leave you breathless.”

    “Nothing is left to the imagination”

    Then it all finishes with:
    “Please contact Producer Stephen Biro of Unearthed Films for ordering information.”

    Fuckin’ shills. Maybe they should retitle it “Murder Set Pieces II.”

  • Johnny Butane

    Steven, I told you point blank that our review was going to be negative and you encouraged me to post it. I did not see any “personal” attacks in this review, other than stating it was badly done which could, to some ways of thinking, be seen as “personal”. Myself, I agreed with Scott entirely, he just had more gumption to sit through the entire film, when I couldn’t make it past the first disc.

    Like others have said, you have lots of glowing reviews out there to work with, so don’t focus on this one because you don’t agree with the criticism. And don’t launch personal attacks on our reviewers just because they don’t like what you created.

    • Stephen Biro

      I was going to list the attacks but I’m too busy.

      I mean c’mon Johnny, you said it was a bad review, not an outright mean one.

      Yeah, your right, maybe I shouldn’t have said anything at all. Maybe working on this film for over 4 years and working with the people so close that such a mean spirited review took my totally by surprise.

      So let me apologize for giving my two cents in. Also, let me apologize to you Scott for taking such a hard stance on your review, it was just really mean, you do have to admit that. So let me apologize for my personal attack.

      Funny thing is, your right, it is getting glowing reviews and it is doing wonderful and it just got better. Philosophy was just invited to Sitges 08 in October to compete in their Midnight Extreme Selection and it will be up for Best Film in the line up. I’m really excited about that.

      You know, I can laugh about this now, I was upset at 1st but being invited to Sitges with our masturbatory, porn chick, student film and going up against the newest Takashi Miike film and some of the biggest horror films by the biggest studios makes me realize, that we did something right, even though you guys think it was totally wrong and lame.

      So thank for the review guys, I hate to see what you would give our Hari Kari Series an even worse review, now that’s porn chicks, masturbatory, fetish gore. LOL

      I won’t bother posting again since I made the mistake by taking it personal. I’m also really busy.

      I love this business!

      Oh, and that IMDB review came from Tim over at http://www.Gopostal.com He’s not a shill, just loves the movie.

      • Messiahman

        double post

        I guess that means my bet is raised to forty bucks.

      • Messiahman

        I’ve got a nice new twenty dollar bill here that says the Miike film wins.

  • Kryten Syxx

    Exactly what are you considering a personal attack in this review?

  • Blockbuster

    What I want to know is why those other sites are linked, but not to the actual review of the movie…why is that?

  • Kryten Syxx

    OK, Mr. Biro. Your film has positive reviews elsewhere and our opinion may be in the minority. It happens. Don’t bring on the personal attacks as it does no favors to either party.

    Thank you.

    • Stephen Biro

      You did read the review right? It was a horrible attack on everyone who worked on the film for over 4 years. It’s one thing to give a bad review but putting down everyone who worked on it is very wrong. I have never had anyone totally rip into the people who made the film like this before. Maybe your used to it here but it has no part in the horror community. I will always defend the people I work with. The film, is a film and the hard work and dedication everyone put into it should still be admired. If the final product is lousy in a persons eyes, then fine but don’t rip into the people that dedicated so much of their time and effort to bring it to life.

      Maybe your right, maybe I shouldn’t say anything, I’m not Nick Palumbo but dammit, you have to admit, that’s not just a review of the film but it’s a personal attack. If it wasn’t, and it was just a bad review, I would have no problem what so ever but working with Andrey and reading the name calling and seeing the review turn viscous towards the actors and the director sure does infuriate me. As a moderator, you do have to admit it.

      I just suggest for future reference, keep your reviewers a little more professional and have them lay off on the personal attacks of the people who work on the films. Hate the film, not the filmmakers.

  • Stephen Biro

    Stephen Biro here, I heard about this one bad review from some overly pretentious armchair critic and figured I would respond to Mr. Intelligentsia. 1st off, this guys got a problem, he was plainly the wrong person to watch it and review it for a horror site like Dread. Putting something down to make one feel better about himself shows a very fragile ego. I bet he’s either a ghost hunter, a Bela Lugosi or a Vincent Price fan or even worse, a goth who likes to dress in 18th Century garb to go to conventions in. I have nothing wrong with the above mentioned horror genre, just don’t like egotistical garbage that represents itself as someone who tells people what to watch and thinks he’s better then everyone else because of his own little opinions.

    Here, let me show you what a real reviewer or someone who is actually interested in the film says about Philosophy of a Knife.

    Check out…

    And last but not least, this is from Home Media Magazine. The nations biggest and most prestigious dvd and entertainment magazine. Read their review and this is from someone who actually gets paid to write reviews and publish articles on all movies, not just horror films.

    Philosophy of a Knife
    Prebook 6/10; Street 7/8
    TLA, Horror, $19.99 DVD, $29.99 two-DVD set, NR.
    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. — Matt Miller

    Here’s the url for the fun of it.


    Not a single bad review out of the bunch, in fact, their all raving about it. What does this say about your review? What does this say about yourself?

    Now Scott, I am sorry that you did not like our movie. Being such a great critic of things you just watch and don’t do yourself does give you such a high aptitude for knowing what’s bad, it must ooze out of your pours. Being such a horror buff and all knowing person you are, shouldn’t you have said, I know what Unearthed puts out and I’m not not this sort of thing, would have been honorable but alas, no.

    I can handle a bad review for my 1st film, in fact I expect more but from what I have seen, that’s not really happening. More reviews will be coming in so stay on the look out and don’t let just one self imposed critic tell you what to watch.

    You know, I think I will use this line for Philosophy! Hope you don’t mind. LOL

    Philosophy of a Knife succeeded in being the crappiest pile of masturbatory, art-house wannabe, pedantic and mean-spirited shit I’ve ever had the displeasure of watching.

    Scott A Johnson
    Paranormal Researcher and Writer of An American Haunting.

    And remember, those who can’t do… teach.

    Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. If he wasn’t such a dick about It I wouldn’t give a rats ass but oh… I hate people that are just sooo good at being dicks, maybe that’s what you should write about next their Scotty? Being an egotistical dick that is so better then the rest of us. I’m sure it will be over 10,000 pages and a lot better then The Stand.

    • Chainsaw

      First off, Scott’s good people.

      Secondly, I like what Unearthed does. You bring movies that probably wouldn’t be seen by anyone if not given the chance to the surface. But seriously…one bad review, and you go into attack mode? Hell, the fact that you waltz in here with all these glowing reviews shows that someone liked it, and people will buy it. So coming in and saying that the wrong person got the review does a disservice to Scott and the rest of the community. There is no such thing as a “Extreme Horror” reviewer here, so I say accept it and move on.

      Come on, man…no one wants to be another Nick Palumbo.

    • Sirand

      “I can handle a bad review for my 1st film”

      Obviously not if you’re posting long diatribes here and attacking Scott personally.

      The professional thing to do would be to gracefully ignore the review or at least take these issues up in private. If you want to be taken seriously as a filmmaker, stop the hypocritical whining and the Nick Palumbo tactics.

  • Sirand

    I love that subculture of indie filmmaking-wannabes who produce this kind’ve stuff. Y’know, the ones pretending like it’s still edgy and wasn’t worn out 30 years ago. They’re funny.

  • frank_dracman

    Torture porn in glorious black and white! Just watched the 4+ minute trailer, pretentious indeed. I’ve read about and witnessed man’s inhumanity to man enough to know it’s never entertaining. If it’s presented in a mature, professional manner, documentaries and historical reenactments can be useful and educational. Learn from the sins of our fathers, so to speak. But smut is smut, no matter what kind of pretty bow you put upon it. So if you like this kind of stuff, more power to you, I’ll be over here doing something else.

  • MyotisLucifugus

    OMGZ you mean the following were FAKE???

    “simulated rape scene between a cute concentration-camp prisoner (?!?!) and a young emo syphilis sufferer.”
    “scene of another young and cute prisoner getting her teeth ripped out.”
    “young actress who, along with closeups of her nether-naughty-bits, gets a huge cockroach inserted in her coochie”

    Hmmm. Ok, sarcasm aside, what’s the problem, reviewer for DREAD CENTRAL? If those quotes (outside of the word “coochie”) don’t whet the appetite of the curious, I don’t know what will. Though, I would begin by not using the word “coochie.” Ever.
    Luckily for me, I’m still possessed of my own ability to process visual stimuli that I purchased the DVD based on Iskanov’s previous works, and the incredible trailer (as well as the video for “Dead Before Born”) I first saw from what feels like forever ago in order to make my own decisions concerning the product. It’s a shame more so-called film enthusiasts are unable to do the same these days.

    I think the thing gives you the proper credentials for commanding respect for your opinions is your invocation of second-to-none genre defining examples of cinema such as SAW and SE7EN. Yes!
    Oh, and I bet I’ll probably be your new best friend when I tell you that I totally got the Snoopy/Jew’s harp reference, immortalized forever in A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN, despite your arrogant assumption that no one would.

    I’m really looking forward to checking this out in its entirety, hopefully in one sitting. I’ll let you know what I think after seeing it.
    Thanks, again.

  • Spaceshark

    Awww, and here I was hoping for a suitable replacement for FLower of Flesh and Blood.

  • Mr. Dark

    So, Scott, I take it you haven’t read about ‘The Brazilian’, a half Jewish half Brazilian concentration camp victim who passed the time away by providing hygenic pubic removal for his fellow inmates? That’s why they call that ‘a Brazilian’ to this day!

    Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m obviously full of shit, but wasn’t that paragraph twice as amusing as this entire film apparently was? 😀

    Mr. Dark
    Part-Time Dread Central Gaming Guy
    Full-Time Freelance Smartass

  • Johnny Butane

    Further than that is better. Cleansing your brain of it would be best.

  • MagusMaleficus

    Dude, Stephen Biro from Unearthed Films pimped this movie in the forums on the 4th, and almost sold me on it… However, after reading this review, I think I’ll stay as far away from this flick as I possibly can.

  • Cash Bailey

    I saw the trailer for this and thought “Wow, Ulli Lommel is making movies under an alias now?”