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The Human Condition I: No Greater Love (I) (1959)
"Ningen no jôken" (original title)

 -  Drama | War  -  14 December 1959 (USA)
8.4
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Ratings: 8.4/10 from 2,952 users  
Reviews: 17 user | 31 critic

A Japanese pacifist, unable to face the dire consequences of conscientious objection, is transformed by his attempts to compromise with the demands of war-time Japan.

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Title: The Human Condition I: No Greater Love (1959)

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
Michiyo Aratama ...
Chikage Awashima ...
Tôfuku Kin
Ineko Arima ...
Shunran Yô
Keiji Sada ...
...
Okishima
Akira Ishihama ...
Chin
Kôji Nanbara ...
Kô (as Shinji Nanbara)
Seiji Miyaguchi ...
Kyôritsu Ô
Tôru Abe ...
Watarai Gunsô
Masao Mishima ...
Kuroki Shochô
Eitarô Ozawa ...
Okazaki
Kôji Mitsui ...
Furuya
Akitake Kôno ...
Kôno Taii
Nobuo Nakamura ...
Honsha Buchô
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Storyline

In the World War II, the pacifist and humanist Japanese Kaji accepts to travel with his wife Michiko to the tiny Manchurian village Loh Hu Liong to work as supervisor in an iron ore mine to avoid to be summoned to the military service. Kaji works with Okishima (Sô Yamamura) and he implements a better treatment to the laborers and improves the mine production. When the feared Kempetai (The "Military Police Corps", the military police arm of the Imperial Japanese Army from 1881 to 1945) brings six hundred Chinese POWs to the mine, Kaji negotiates with their leaders expecting them to control their comrades. However the methods of Kaji upset the corrupt system in the site, and the foreman Furuya (Kôji Mitsui) plots a scheme to use the naive Chen (Akira Ishihama) to turn off the electrical power of the barbwire fences to allow the prisoners to escape. When seven prisoners are falsely accused of an attempt of fleeing, a cruel Kempetai sergeant uses his sword to behead the prisoners. When ... Written by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Drama | War

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

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Details

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Release Date:

14 December 1959 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Human Condition I: No Greater Love  »

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Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?

Goofs

At one point a Japanese guard begins to whip Kao, yet the motions he makes are just a flailing of his arms, visibly missing the actor. Kao retaliates by throwing a rock at the guard, but the rock never strikes the guard. However, the actor playing the guard overreacts as if he has been struck. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Michiko: This isn't like you.
Kaji: Why?
Michiko: You're running away. Don't you want me?
Kaji: Of course I do.
Michiko: And I want you, too. Yet we can't marry-...
Kaji: How many times must I explain?
Michiko: Because you might be called up? I wouldn't care if it was the day after. Of course I'd cry. I'd cry bitterly. But happiness only lies in marrying the one you love.
Kaji: Alright. I'll take you back to my dormitory. You'll stay with me tonight. Alright?
Michiko: Yes, I'll go.
[...]
See more »

Connections

Followed by The Human Condition II: Road to Eternity (1959) See more »

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User Reviews

The Immortal Story
8 March 2013 | by (Switzerland) – See all my reviews

Masaki Kobayashi's reflection on the Japanese experience in occupying Manchuria, fighting World War II, and dealing with defeat is a staggering piece of cinema. Clocking in at just under 10 hours, "The Human Condition" – what a title! – takes us on a journey with Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai) through a POW film, a war film and a survival film, tied together by a loose love story, weaving all these strands together with great care over its epic but impeccably paced run-time.

The first part sees Kaji, a young, well-to-do Japanese, begin work as labor supervisor in a POW camp in occupied Manchuria. What could have been an interesting honeymoon with new loving wife Michiko and the start to a promising career slowly devolves into a nightmare: Kaji tries to stay true to his human principles while getting increasingly tangled in a complex web that involves escaping prisoners, abusive guards, and a tyrannical, bullish army that is above the law.

As an indictment of the Japanese Imperial Army, it is all the more haunting for coming from one who served under it. And to Kobayashi's credit, never does this come across as a crass moral lecture. It is a stunning, gripping study in mounting desperation, anchored by a powerful turn from the ever-dependable Nakadai.

Japanese cinema of this period has its quirks, stylish acting and a tendency to melodrama that can bemuse Western viewers. While I find Kobayashi less impaired by these traits than many of his contemporaries – especially in the cold, restrained anger and sorrow of Harakiri, his masterpiece – he gets heroic support from his star of choice. Far from the histrionics and bravado of a Toshiro Mifune, Japan's other megastar of the 50s and early 60s, Tatsuya Nakadai's magnetic charisma is far more subdued and heartfelt. Though our hero is at times unbelievably decent, perhaps buoyed by his youthful optimism and love for his wife, Nakadai makes every situation and painful decision resonate.

The technical credits are the usual for this under-appreciated director's work: arresting visuals, sweeping movement, carefully crafted sets. And the supporting players leave their mark, with a stand-out in each episode. In this instance, particularly Kaji's conflicted assistant, originally mistakable for a simple brute, finds very different ways of dealing with his own crisis of conscience.

This is definitely a film you have to see. Just make sure you clear your schedule, as you don't want to spread the viewing chunks too thin if watching in fragments


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