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86 of 86 people found the following review helpful
A Mammoth HUMANIST Drama That is One of the Staggering Achievements in Japanese Cinema!18 Sept. 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
Masaki Kobayashi, the acclaimed director of Japanese classics such as "HARA-KIRI" and "Samurai Rebellion" has always made a powerful stance against established authority. He made a scathing indictment of the "Code of Bushido" and criticized the way samurai clans have treated its retainers and their families. Kobayashi's "THE HUMAN CONDITION" is his fearless indictment of the war itself that criticizes established authority. Based on the novel by Jumpei Gomikawa, this film trilogy is arguably Kobayashi's finest films, its strong existential themes, the manner of which it exposes the aspects of good and evil, and the thin line between morality and immorality is truly masterful. The trilogy focuses on the exploits of Kaji during World War II. Kaji's development as a man, as a husband, as a soldier, and later as a prisoner of war is brought to exposition by Masaki Kobayashi.
Disc One: "No Greater Love" (1959) Kaji (Tatasuya Nakadai) is a young man who is a pacifist and a socialist. He marries his sweetheart Michiko (Michiyo Aratama) despite the uncertainties in the future. Kaji agrees to work as a mining supervisor in an iron and ore mining site in Japanese-occupied Manchuria to avoid getting drafted to fight a war he doesn't believe in. Kaji becomes partly successful in reforming the working conditions in the mining site, although his ideas are often contested by his superiors. Things become more complicated when Chinese prisoners of war are forced upon the site by the Kempeitai (military police) to use as laborers. Kaji tries but fails to reconcile his humanistic theories with the realities of forced slave labor under Japan's Imperial system.
Disc Two: "Road To Eternity" (1959) After the climactic confrontation with the Chinese prisoners caused Kaji to lose his exemption from being drafted in the military and the fact that Japan is losing the war which makes the country more desperate for military servicemen, Kaji is now a hardened idealist. Despite being trained to fight a war he doesn't believe in, Kaji proves himself a capable soldier and tries to implement his humanistic idealism to the treatment of other enlisted men who are being brutalized by the veterans. The film reaches its unforgettable climax as Kaji is sent to the front line to fight off the advancing Soviet army.
Disc Three: "A Soldier's Prayer" (1961) The Japanese Kwantung army is shattered as Kaji, along with several survivors embark on an epic journey on foot through miles of forest, desert, and fields southward in the hopes of reuniting with his wife. After Kaji survives perils including starvation and untrustworthy allies, he gets captured by Soviet forces that echoes the treatment of the Chinese prisoners meted out by the Japanese in the first film. Kaji eventually becomes disappointed that communism which he hoped would be the catalyst for human liberation, seemed no different from the oppressive systems he had struggled against. Kaji escapes into the winter wasteland in the hopes of reuniting with his wife Michiko.
The Review: Hailed as "One of the Greatest Films Ever Made", "The Human Condition" is one film whose experience may seem inspirational but it also proves utterly depressing. This trilogy embodies both the flaws and strengths of humanity as it unrelentingly brings the faces of morality and decency into opposing sides against the natural instincts of men. The film may also prove to be inspirational as love and decency seemingly tries to find a way to survive amid the bleakness of whatever situation fate may deal one into.
The First film is the longest film of the three as Kaji takes his theories to improve the working conditions of the mining site. This is Kaji at his purest form as he tries to bring his theories into procedure. This is also where the main protagonists are faced with moral dilemmas as they try to weigh the rights and the wrongs. I loved the scenes when Kaji begins to question himself for his own decisions and the more he gets deeper into the situation with the Chinese prisoners, the more difficult it gets for him to face his wife. Kaji manages the rations and rewards the prisoners with prostitutes. The film makes a powerful statement in pointing out the potential successes of working together as embodied by the Chinese, but mistrust and suspicion becomes the main opposition for two races to work together. It also bleakly portrays the two sides of human nature as there are those who would stand to profit or take advantage of any situation at the cost of others; as kindness and understanding may sometimes prove to produce mixed results.
The second part of the film series portrays Kaji in the military, under suspicion because of his revolutionary ideas. The film exposes the politics in the military and the way, soldiers tend to mimic their superiors in the way they treat new recruits. In my opinion, this part is the most damaging critical indictment of the army. Kaji represents the reasonable side of the picture as he tries to protect the new recruits whose ages range from 40 years and above. At times, the majority of the Japanese authority are too willing to turn a blind eye to the problems faced by the new recruits as the veterans appear adamant in abusing them. The adage; "Survival of the Fittest" comes to mind, as Kaji is brought to the breaking point. Kobayashi also brings some visceral scenes of brutality and violence in this film. The Soviet advance into China brings both veterans and new recruits on the same side as they try to work out their differences.
"Road To Eternity" also defines the word courage. Kaji's main goal is to survive that may make him seem a coward in the eyes of some but inside, he is courageous enough to admit that this fight is meaningless. For Kaji and his allies, it becomes disgraceful to die in a war like a dog. Kobayashi may also be making a commentary against blind obedience and that the Japanese army were more occupied in believing in their `honorable' war, than facing reality that their goals may indeed prove to be unjust. For Kaji, fighting this battle is more for a fight for survival than fighting for his own country.
"A Soldier's Prayer" may well be the darkest and the most depressing installment of the three. While it does have its inspirational side, as it also exposes the strengths of humanity. Kaji finds reasons to hope, and to dream of freedom; in the hopes of reuniting with Michiko. This chapter also brings Kaji face to face with his morals as he is oftentimes forced to make decisions for the good of the many rather than the needs of the few. Children and old people have no place in this world, as the group is faced with starvation. This chapter also brings the consequences of being on the losing side of the war, as Japanese refugees are left aimless, hungry as the women are raped and abused, not just by Soviets but also by the Japanese themselves. There is a very disquieting sequence as a young girl retains of hope of reuniting with her parents despite being raped by the soldiers of the Red Army. She finds those hopes dashed when she becomes victimized by the very soldiers who were supposed to protect her. I found it hard to see some Japanese women offer themselves up as sex slaves to survive, at least until they can find male protection.
I suppose Kobayashi wanted to make a commentary on the manner that people tend to look out for themselves. It was real disturbing to see the Japanese prey on their own countrymen, most specifically in the POW camp. It was quite sad to see the Japanese prisoners become more abused by their fellow countrymen than by their own captors. Kaji and Terada would take food scraps to add to their rations, reported as sabotage by their Japanese superiors. Kaji tries to stay true to his own unwavering beliefs, but it is the evil done by his own countrymen that pushes him over his limits. Anger, envy, greed and pride are the film's main themes as the prisoners of war become faced with a situation worst than those experienced by the Chinese in the mining camps. Worst not because of the hardships, but made worst because of the fact that it is the Japanese abusing the Japanese.
Kaji is superbly portrayed by Tatsuya Nakadai. The man embodies the pride that one takes from himself, that pride slowly fades when forced into situations that makes him question his own soul. Education and principle are indeed virtues but one would never know just how one can react to a dilemma until faced with one. Other characters such as Okishima and Kageyama are also at the mercy of military policies and politics; even though they disagree with such policies, they still give in. It is difficult to stay true to oneself when faced with a truly testing situation. Michiko embodies the soul of the Japanese wife; true and faithful. However, the film brings a certain question as to her true whereabouts. Did Michiko manage to escape or did she fall prey to the tests of the flesh?
"The Human Condition" is Japanese cinema at its best. It is very difficult to sit through the film due to its very depressing themes but one has to also see that sometimes from such desperation, courage and honor may still be born. Masaki Kobayashi bravely brings the questions of humanity into exposition; in the face of such trials and hardships, can courage, decency and hope still prevail?
A raw indictment of its nation's wartime mentality as well as a personal existential tragedy, Kobayashi's riveting, gorgeously filmed epic is novelistic cinema at its best.
Highest Possible Recommendation! [5 Stars]
The Criterion release sports a nice anamorphic transfer and has a mono track in discs one and two, disc 3 has a 2.0 Dolby Digital track.
44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
Be Prepared to be Shattered18 May 2009
Gerard D. Launay
- Published on Amazon.com
How should an individual respond to deep-set social injustices - ones that are built into the structure of the country's national morality. This is the core of Kaji's story (performed by the brilliant Tatsuya Nakadai). This epic trilogy is a biography of a man, a dissenter, a nation. During the critical years 1930's to 1940's, Japanese aggression was founded on radical nationalism, a policy which expected everything in its path to bend or break. The director films the cruelty of Japanese and Russian authority with unflinching honesty. As is always true of this director...he is an absolute master of cinematography in the brilliant way we think Akira Kurusowa is a master of the same art. As an example, after one of the Chinese slave laborers is brutally beaten to death, the group of laborers complain to Kaji - accusing him of being just like the other insensitive Japanese. The crowd of prisoners and Kaji are separated by an electric barbed wire. Then suddenly - through the barbed wire - the prisoners view 30 comfort women approaching to service them sexually...almost as a mirage...and the complaint against Kaji drips away. It is a deeply powerful image - a form of cinema poetry and a form of cinema realism.
In the first installment of this extraordinary trilogy, Kaji is sent to be an overseer of a Japanese slave labor camp in Manchuria. At this time, the Japanese are using Chinese men or unlucky POW's for mining operations under inhuman, horrific conditions. Appalled by the viciousness, Kaji proposes reforms and basic human rights for the prisoners...but in doing so he is considered an obstacle to the Japanese War effort and so the idealist is next sent into the military. In the second installment, Kaji challenges the military officers' cruel approach and humiliation of Japanese recruits. Again, he is unsuccessful. This leads him to the third part where the Japanese army is routed by the Soviets. But the Russians are not the liberators the liberals believe them to be. Now for the third time, Kaji refuses to accept the Russian injustices.
What seems "all important" to the director Kobayashi is not the success of his quiet hero, but the very attempt - however futile - to challenge injustice, even alone. Here we have a conscientious objector, sometimes portrayed by others as weak, who is actually more ready to put his life on the line than the soldiers.
As a final point, the film trilogy is part autobiographical. Even though a soldier in the Japanese army, the film director Kobayashi refused to accept any position in the Japanese military system other than a private as a personal protest to its aggressive fascism.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
An allegory for our condition--The Human Condition I: No Greater Love11 Feb. 2013
- Published on Amazon.com
The British film critic David Shipman described The Human Condition - Masaki Kobayashi's 9.5 hour epic - as "unquestionably the greatest film ever made." I raise that straight up, because any film calling itself `The Human Condition' holds promise of great profundity; and praise as singular as Shipman's indicates it may have fulfilled that promise. So does it? I will concentrate on that question, but before I do, let me deal with some formalities first...
The 9.5 hours do not run unbroken. Whatever its merit, I think we can be thankful for that. Kobayashi followed the structure of Junpei Gomikawa's mammoth novel and divided the film into three separate parts - the first of which is No Greater Love, a title taken from Christ's description of unconditional selflessness, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
The film was made in 1959; it is black and white; and while the acting is slightly mannered, it is not too distracting. Set against the backdrop of Japan in the years surrounding WWII, it follows Kaji, a young idealist, as his idealism is tested, and worn away by the brutal realities of life.
The plot runs something like this: Kaji is at first given dispensation from the war, so that he can take up the role of mine supervisor. It so happens that the mine uses Chinese prisoners for its labour, and Kaji finds himself sympathising with them. Kaji quickly learns though, that his ideals are not shared - indeed he finds himself hated by all parties - his superiors, his workmates, and even the prisoners, who see him as smug and self-serving.
There is then an uprising by the prisoners and suspicion is subsequently directed against Kaji. As punishment he is drafted into the army - which is where No Greater Love ends.
That then is an outline of the plot. So to the real question - does No Greater Love succeed as a depiction of the human condition?
The Australian biologist Jeremy Griffith, whose work focuses on explaining the human condition, suggests that humans are born with unconditionally selfless instincts - the type of love described by Christ, and referred to in the film's title. However,when consciousness arose, we found ourselves at odds with those instincts: "When our intellect began to exert itself and experiment in the management of life from a basis of understanding" says Griffith, "in effect challenging the role of the already established instinctual self, a battle unavoidably broke out between the instinctive self and the newer conscious self" [...].
As a result of this battle, "the intellect was left having to endure a psychologically distressed, upset condition, with no choice but to defy that opposition from the instincts". This defiance took the form of anger, alienation and egocentricity - characteristics inimical to ideality, and which constitute what we recognize as `reality'.
The human condition has been having to live under the implication that we are bad for this defiance, when in fact we are not; and the human journey has been a journey undertaken in the hope and faith that we would one day find sufficient knowledge to exonerate ourselves. It was this hope that kept us going despite all the self-corruption we suffered, both individually, and as a species.
Kobayashi's film succeeds as an allegory for our condition not just because it is a recognition of the fate of idealism in the world, but above and beyond that, because Kanji's obdurate, stubborn refusal to stop - his determination to keep going, despite the horrors that he has to undergo - represents our belief that humanity is essentially good, despite all appearances, and that one day we would gain the knowledge needed to liberate ourselves from insecurity - if only we just keep going. Kobayashi's film resonates mightily in this context.
The poster chosen for the movie gives a great insight into Kobayashi's view of the human condition, and the underlying theme of the movie, showing in silhouette a line of soldiers marching up a steep slope. In spirit it closely resembles the famous picture by Katsushika Hokusai, Under the Wave Off Kanagawa, showing fishing boats plowing forward through terrifying and remorseless waves. It is worth noting that Under the Wave Off Kanagawa is also a picture used by Griffith to illustrate humanity's courage in continuing to search for knowledge despite the self-corruption it brings. Perhaps the Japanese ethos contains a particular recognition that stoicism is required in the face of the human condition.
In the end, Kobayashi's triumph is that he has created an allegory that reminds us of the real journey - humanity's journey - the one that we are all involved in. True, it is not a comfortable reminder - this takes discipline to endure - it is perhaps entertainment for a samurai - but the reward is an honest depiction of our condition, one that reminds us of our heroism. And there is immense pathos in that.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A devastating and harrowing statement about the insights of the War!27 Jun. 2009
Hiram Gòmez Pardo Venezuela
- Published on Amazon.com
"The human condition" is an emblematic film, that rescues and captures the dignity of the human being , as well as a variegated set of different human features through the war.
As an extended symphony, Masaki Kobayashi displays three great movements. Manchuria, 1943. The disappointed humanism of our protagonist when he is assigned to a concentration prisoners camp(uncapable to make his expectations come true), leads him to experience the hellish ambiance when he is imprisoned and so, to suffer in own flesh the horrors of a close death until unbearable limits.
This is without any shadow of doubt, one of the most towering,absorbing antibelic films ever made, that requires all your whole attention.
A sumptuous masterwork, and one of the two masterpieces of Kobayashi (The other is Harakiri).
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Towering Achievement4 Dec. 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
The Human Condition is excellent. It might be redundant to mention but the movie is over 9 hours long. Don't let that daunt you. The film never meanders and is far from redundant; it is merely as thorough an adaptation of a single novel ever filmed.
The Criterion Collection version is presented over four dvds. Three contain the actual movie and there is a fourth with some supplemantary material. My only gripe is that there is no commentary track which are always helpful and are a highlight of Criterion releases.
Tetsuya Nakadai stars as the Kaji, the protagonist, and he carries the film expertly. Rarely is his character off-frame and about a five hours in I realized that this was one of the great screen performances ever given. Nakadai accomplishes the daunting task of holding the viewers interest through each and every trial he faces (574 minutes of them!). Those familiar with Japanese films will also note some fine performances from Susima Fujita, Minoru Chiaki and Kunie Tanaka.
The two common knocks on The Human Condition is that it is too didactic and that it is not Kobyashi's excellent Hari-Kiri. On those points I'd agree that while it is didactic the plot and pacing keep it riveting enough to prevent the film from ever getting to preachy. I never felt I was being 'taught' a lesson, just 'learning' one. As far as The Human Conditon not being Hara-Kiri, well, Kobyashi directed several classics including the former and Kwaidan and Samurai Rebellion as well. The Human Condition is not the least of them.