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This film was hugely popular when it came out around 1960, reflecting
the fiercely anti-war sentiment of the Japanese at the time. I have
read that for a time when it came out, all three parts of The Human
Condition (totaling nine and one-half hours) were shown in a single
sitting at theaters in northern Tokyo, starting around 10 pm and ending
in time for people to catch the trains home the next morning.
While it is a powerful film which portrays much of the suffering and brutality visited on the Chinese in Manchuria by the Japanese war machine, it is not without some rather unlikely plot twists. In particular, Kaji seems somewhat too saint-like to be believable.
It is worth mentioning that the title "The Human Condition" is perhaps misleading. The Japanese word "jouken" corresponding to "condition" is not normally used in a descriptive sense, but rather, as a condition to be fulfilled or satisfied. Thus the title might be better rendered "The Conditions for Being Human"--the implication being that in wartime, the conditions for remaining fully human are elusive at best.
An interesting film that portrays the struggles of an idealistic young
Japanese man who is challenged to employ his idealism in the service of
Japanese war effort in WW II. A key aspect of this struggle is the
protagonist's struggle within himself. Kaji, the young man, seeks to
humanize the brutal conditions at a mining operation in Manchuria.
complicating matters is the profound sense of national prejudice that
the relationships between the various characters. To the workers &
prisoners, regardless of his professed ideals, Kaji is Japanese and
therefore an oppressor. Although Kaji tries to win their trust, his own
frustration enables him to strike a young Chinese helper, reinforcing the
image of the brutal Japanese. This weakness is a key underlying theme.
Even late in the film, when he takes a very brave stand against some
executions, his effort is a bit late and his stand is successful only when
the Chinese prisoners take up the protest. He struggles because her fears
he cannot live up to the ideals he expresses.
Kaji is also confronted with the another irony. Although he opposes the war, he has chosen a route of avoidance rather than resistance. This is emphasized early in the film during an evening with a friend who is about to be inducted. His friend comments that, although they opposed the war, neither of them was brave enough to face the penalty for resistance of life imprisonment. Shortly thereafter, he takes the mine job to get a military exemption. Yet, if he is successful, the production improvements in the mine only fuel the Japanese war machine.
A valuable film because it explores areas of the pacific war that are not well know in the west. Also an interesting observation in the danger of half-measures when taking a moral stance. Kaji is ultimately confronted with the fact that you cannot avoid the war, only oppose it or aid it. I look forward to viewing the next film.
Masaki Kobayashi's dream project was the Human Condition adaptation,
and he pulled it off as a brilliantly told and filmed epic that tells
of a man trying to cling to his humanity in inhuman circumstances. All
three films have wonders in various supporting performances and
set-pieces that astound with their moments of poetic realism, and the
sum of it all makes Lord of the Rings look like kid's stuff. In the
case of the first feature on the trilogy, No Greater Love, we're
introduced to and see the young, idealistic and essentially
good-hearted Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai) as he gets a job as a labor
supervisor at a POW camp in Manchuria following an impressive paper
presentation. He wants to do his best, but the 'powers-that-be', which
include the stalwart boss and particularly the fascistic Kempeitai
(army personnel on site), keep things always on edge with tension, and
as new Chinese POW's roll in and he finds himself torn: how to keep
production up of the ore while also not becoming a monster just like
the other "Japanese devils" to the POW's.
While the story has an immediate appeal (or rather connection-to) the Japanese public as a piece of modern history- the occupation/decimation of Manchuria and its people- none of its dramatic or emotional power is lost on me. Kobayashi is personally tied to the material very much (he himself fought in the war and immediately bought the rights to the 6-volume series when first released), but he doesn't ever get in the way of the story. Matter of fact, he's a truly amazing storyteller first and foremost; dazzlingly he interweaves the conflicts of the prisoners (i.e. Chen, the prostitutes, Kao) with Kaji's first big hurdle of conscience at the labor camp as he sees prisoners treated in horrible conditions, beaten, abused, and eventually brought to senseless deaths thanks to Furyua and his ilk, and finds himself brought to an ultimate question: can he be a human being, as opposed to another mindless monster?
Kobayashi creates scenes and moments that are in the grand and epic tradition of movies, sometimes in beautiful effect and other times showing for the sake of the horrors of wartime (for example, there will never be as harrowing an exodus from a half-dozen cattle cars as seen when the Chinese POW's exit from there to the food sacks), and is able with his wonderful DP to make intimately acted scenes in the midst of wide scapes like the outside ore mines and the cramped living quarters or caves. And damn it all if we don't get one of the great scenes in the history of movies, which is when the six "escapees" are put to execution with the prisoners, and horrified Kaji, watching in stark, gruesome detail. Everything about that one scene is just about perfect.
But as the anchor of the piece (and unlike the other two films, he's not even in every scene of this part), Tatsuya Nakadai delivers on his breakthrough performance. Kobayashi needed a bridge between pre and post-war Japan, and Nakadai is that kind of presence. But aside from being an appealing star- the kind you don't want to avert your eyes from- he's mind-blowingly talented be it in subtle bits of business or when he has to go to town in explosive emotional scenes (or, also, just a twitch under his eye in a super-tense exchange). This goes without saying other actors right alongside him- Aratama, Yamamura, Manbara- are perfectly cast as supervisor, prisoner, prostitute, wife alike to Kaji. And yet, for all the praise worth giving to the film, one that gets even better in its second half than its first, this is only the first part!
Kobayashi's "The Human Condition" is one of a handful of great anti-war
movies. While Japanese film has confronted its own crimes of war more
than other cinema, I am only familiar with one other Japanese movie
which deals directly with the war & the plight of conscientious
objectors: Kurosawa's "No Regrets for Our Youth". Many films deal with
the futility of war: "Seven Samurai" & "Yojimbo" come immediately to
mind. But "Human Condition" takes on the enormity of war, & the means
by which everyone becomes complicit in its total corruption. The hero,
though a Conscientious Objector, becomes a colonial occupier, an
exploiter of slave labor, an employer of a madam who runs a camp of
women & girls impressed into prostitution, & generally runs the gamut
of crimes against humanity while trying to maintain his virtue & love's
Parts II & III also explore the brutality of the army toward its own soldiers, & the complete desecration of the ideals of the Russian Revolution & the cruelty of ordinary Chinese villagers.
"The Human Condition" should be ranked with "Grand Illusion", though what could be as lyrical as the Renoir film? If only this were require viewing in all military academies. If only it were required viewing for all lawmakers & the executive. Is that asking too much?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I thought Masaki Kobayashi could do no wrong.
I really wanted to like this. I even tried to and tried hard. Kobayashi is one of a short list of my favorite directors, also a titan of Japanese cinema by any standard I can think of, but more, I was convinced that if the cathartic tragedy he favoured, one that indicts and devastates, could make the leap from the jidaigekis set in Tokugawa Japan to any other genre, that genre would be the war drama.
Set in 1943 Manchuria, WWII in full bloody swing, The Human Condition follows the trials and tribulations in occupied China of Kaji, a young idealist drafted in the service of the Japanese army. He is transferred to the hinterland to work as a supervisor in the ore mines of the area, a place where thousands of Chinese prisoners of war slave away in inhuman conditions for the benefit of the Japanese motherland. Kaji, full of youthful optimism as he is, attempts to befriend the Chinese POW's in an effort to both make their living conditions better but also improve their labour efficiency to appease his demanding military superiors.
And there the movie starts crumbling under its own weight. For a film clocking in at 3 hours and 20 minutes, there's really an awful lot of scenes where two or three characters discuss the most obvious things and feelings; not a whole lot of subtext going on, chunks of dialogue delivered right on the nose, all done in generic takes. A story is being played out here but there's no cadence, punctuation, or interesting viewpoint.
Worse, the movie is melodrama enough to constitute somewhat of an anachronism; it would have made much more sense coming out in 1949 instead of 1959. Consider the movies Samuel Fuller was making a few years ago, consider that Akira Kurosawa was about to revolutionize the jidaigeki and the alienated drifter a year later with Yojimbo, or the soulcrushing indifference of a stark world portrayed in a film like Fires on the Plain.
Speaking of protagonists, it's Kaji, the main character we're called to identify with, played by samurai icon Tatsuya Nakadai before he was even a supporting actor in Yojimbo, who presents the biggest problem. His attitude and worldview of unconditional humanism are all too naive and convenient to hit the right emotional chords. Idenitifying with Kaji's holier-than-thou idealism is hard, not because people like him don't exist in real life, I hope they do, but simply because this kind of clean-cut idealist character doesn't fare well in a dramatic context.
Bear with me here. Now every dramatic character (and by extention his actions that forward the plot) has to be defined by and rooted in some sort of inner conflict. In Kaji's case, it's between work (supervising prisoners into forced labour) and ideology (every human being should be treated with dignity and respect). But his ideology brings him into direct conflict with every major Japanese character in the movie; the army officers, his boss, the other supervisors - ruthless people who, in no uncertain terms, could have his head on a plate if they were so inclined. Why Kaji repeatedly goes against everyone even at the risk of his life is never so much as hinted at. If he has nothing to lose, what can he stand to gain from this? What do we, as viewers, learn that we didn't know?
Usually some sort of character flaw forces the character to take action in an effort to redeem himself. Kaji's only flaw is his idealism. In that sense, Kaji is more of a martyr or a saint than a real flawed human being whose story is worth telling and the audience investing in. I don't see myself in him, he doesn't meaningfully exist in the world as I know it. It's only natural then that we may become frustrated by his idealistic persistance, a feeling that is shared (ironically) by his antagonists inside the movie (the abusive supervisor and the army officials). If this is a clever trick on Kobayashi's part to have us sympathize with Kaji's enemies (and maybe feel bad about it), then I tip my hat to him. Because it was done at the expense of a movie.
Another thing that bothered me was how forced the drama felt at times. For example, near the end (and this is no spoiler that matters), a Chinese prostitute whose prisoner lover was executed by the Japanese, throws rocks at Kaji and calls him "Japanese devil". The only responsibility Kaji had at the execution was that he simply couldn't prevent it from happening. He's not even a military officer, just a labour supervisor. There's no reason for the prostitute to throw rocks at Kaji instead of the real culprits. It seems to happen for no other reason than to milk more sympathy and pity for a character that hasn't earned it. His tolerance only seems to invite more abuse which only reinforces his martyrdom.
That's not to say that THC is not without its moments of beauty. Some of the cinema in the film is marvelous, with beautiful landscape shots and certain scenes and images that resonate with emotional power: the starving bodies of Chinese prisoners dropping like flies from train wagons, the lenthy execution scene, a parade of prostitutes visiting the concentration camp.
Overall, I'm very disappointed with The Human Condition. Based on the glowing reviews here, I was expecting a masterpiece to equal Kobayashi's other work from the 60's. It turns out THC is a war melodrama that might have been very popular in a devastated post-war Japan that was thirsty for the populist theme of humanism valiantly raising its chin in the face of an oppressive system, but I found it too simplistic and convenient and lacking the sophistication of Kobayashi's epics from the decade to come.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sometimes you watch a film that literally touches your soul . THE HUMAN
CONDITION trilogy is one of these films . I saw this on Channel 4 in
1985 and never forgot it . A few years ago I mentioned seeing this to a
professional film critic who seemed surprised that he wasn't the only
person who'd seen it and was disappointed when I said I didn't have a
video or DVD copy of the trilogy . In a film class I mentioned to the
tutor that every scene in the trilogy was a scene of absolute beauty .
My tutor , a film historian and myself then engaged in such an
enthusiastic conversation that ALL the other students in class started
taking notes determined to see this movie masterpiece . Recently I was
involved in a conversation with a student who had enrolled in a class
involving Japanese cinema and recommended the trilogy to him . I then
mentioned that perhaps it's a good thing I'd hadn't seen it for 25
years and perhaps I'd never watch it again in case it was nowhere as
wonderful as I remembered . After seeing part one of THE HUMAN
CONDITION last night after a gap of 25 years I was left with the
distinct impression that perhaps I should have taken my own advice and
hadn't re-watched it
It's still a beautifully framed and shot film down to director Masaki Kobayashi and cinematographer Yoshio Miyajima but the inherent problem with the film starts in the opening scene where Kaji refuses to pop off to a dormitory to have sex with his wife to be . Why not ? well it's never really revealed . Nor is it ever revealed what motivates Kaji in to being such a saintly and pious personality and the more the film goes on the more morally upstanding Kaji becomes so much so that it almost ruins the film since he's difficult to take seriously . I don't think I've heard of anyone more moral since that mythical figure from Bronze Age Palestine . Does anyone seriously believe that someone like that would be put in charge of a Manchurian labour camp ?
And the portrayal of the camp leads to a second body blow for the film . Try and imagine SCHINDLERS LIST where the Nazis weren't all that bad ! The inmates of the labour camp receive the occasional beating but that's about it as far as crimes against humanity is concerned . . We see Korean " comfort women " who it seems volunteered to become prostitutes and if anyone escapes from the camp then there's no summary retaliation taken against the remaining prisoners . Google " The Rape Of Nanking " or " The Burma Railway " or " Bataan Death March " and you'll get just tiny fraction of the atrocities committed by the Japnese from the period . The only difference between Nazi war crimes and Japanese ones is that the Nazis used gas
There is a subplot where the Kempeitai- the Imperial Japanese version of the Gestapo - take over the running of the camp and execute some prisoners by beheading ( This is done because the prisoners attacked a guard and tried to escape so there's reason for them to be executed ) but this is included to give us yet another overwrought angst ridden melodramatic scene showing us what a wonderfully humanistic , noble person Kaji is
And perhaps THE HUMAN CONDITION is best described as " overwrought melodrama " . It still remains a good film but I have seen many good films and very few films have stayed with me for 25 years so in this respect it's somewhat a bitter disappointment . It's like meeting an erstwhile love of your life only to realize they weren't the person you remembered them as
The greatest film ever made! And I've seen many, many films. This even supercedes The Seven Samurai which I consider a masterwork. The Human Condition is 10 hours and in 3 movies. A stunning performance by Tatsuya Nakadai. Find the 3 parts, hie yourself off to a monastery and watch them, with a bit of a breather between each movie. Stroheim's Greed was about 10 hours before the Hollywood hacks cut it back. This one is intact. It is subtitled and not dubbed.
This is an excellent film about one man attempting to change the system. Kaji brings his youthful enthusiasm, idealism, and humanism against a cruel, unjust machine. The acting, direction, and cinematography are all world class. This is a gripping film which will leave you yearning for part two. This is just the start of a stunning epic.
Hello, my name's Jacob. I'm a 21 year old guy, from Israel, forced to
join the army at the age of 18 as nearly all people of my country have
to, forced to waste 3 years of my life doing things I'd never want to
do if only I was allowed to choose. I'm not a great movie buff. I'm a
simple person, and I'd rather play a video game to kill time, but I do
like action and war films which is how I got to see "The human
condition" on some list here on IMDb. Sounded interesting, and so I
decided to watch the 3 films. So this is a review about all 3...
The films accurately demonstrates, maybe to the extreme, what it is to be a peace-loving, good human being, in a place where fascism and cruelty reigns supreme. Some people may say that Kaji's character is too unbelievable. Too saint-like, to the point where it becomes frustrating. I say it's not true- It's a movie, not real life. Kaji's behaviour might not be realistic, he faces humanity's worst traits with his own altruist ideals of pacifism and equality, as if he's some sort of WW2 superhero. Saying one cannot identify with him is wrong, however, in my humble opinion, because even if maybe you wouldn't act the way he did when put in the same situations, you can appreciate the way he handled himself, you can admire him and aspire to be like him. He isn't a saint though, he makes mistakes, born out of the cruelty and misery that surrounds him, betraying at times the "code" that he is supposed to protect and follow, but even then, you know that ultimately deep down he's the same person, no matter how things go.
Seeing many many irrational things in my military service, I can relate to Kaji in many ways. Seeing people who dedicate their lives to controlling others for the sake of getting promoted, to get appreciated by their superiors who actually appreciate them about as little as they appreciate their own soldiers. People who care for their own interests far more than they care for the interests of those they are in charge of, crushing their wants and needs and deeming them unimportant in the blink of an eye, while their own interests take much higher priority... People who enforce and follow strict rules that are unbending and unreasonable, with such a passion, that it makes you think any reasonable man would dismiss those people as insane, yet still, those are the people who are in charge, because they are the ones who stay in the army and dedicate their lives to it and to it's incredible stupidity, while the real reasonable people go on to dedicate their lives to do something that might actually be beneficial to humanity. This has now officially become somewhat of a rant of how terrible military life and discipline is, maybe more so than it is a review of this series of movies. But why I am saying all of this? because these observations of mine- they are accurately depicted in this movie. If only these real life people that I know were just trying to be a bit better, a bit more human, more like Kaji, maybe my impression of what the army is like wouldn't have been so gloomy as they are now. Kaji, in the films, tries-everywhere he goes-to set things right for those around him, he goes through so many terrible things, scenes that are so... Vile, and so distorted from what you think of human nature as it is in our usually comfortable modern life, and with sheer willpower, he triumphs, even if his triumph is just in him, staying alive while everything else is gone. But ultimately, does it do him any good? If he were to die in the first movie, would that have been better? saved him the suffering of everything he went through later? Well, that is for you to decide. What these films have taught me, is that no matter how it ends, it is important for a person to do what he sees as the right thing to do, and to never lose sight of what the right thing to do is... I'd define a good movie as one that makes you think at the end. It doesn't have to be a cool plot twist at the end that makes you think, it just has to be a movie complex enough but also engaging enough to make you think at the end, because you didn't have time to figure out everything you wanted while you were watching it. At the end of the third movie however, I didn't have to think of anything. I had already absorbed everything. All I wanted was to sleep, and just couldn't. My mind was empty, and I could feel only one thing- awe. And that is why I rate "The human condition" 10/10.
I'm terribly sorry if what you just read sounded like a bunch of drivel. Maybe this review is not for you, and maybe the movie is not for you. But regardless, I thank you for reading it to the very end. Have a nice day.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Kobayashi makes very clear his distaste for authoritarian power of any
kind (I believe he has an almost exact quote to that fact), and nowhere
does he see more problems than with his home country of Japan. However,
what astounds me about his movies is that he is very careful to present
the issues in so much more than simplistic terms, and though there are
"good" guys and "bad" guys, he is a strict realist and makes sure their
motivations and viewpoints are fully explained. His movies always
surprise and compel me, and now that I'm one third the way through his
9 hour long trilogy, I am remembering why.
Say what you want about Harakiri and Samurai Rebellion, the samurai "hero" is no action star and his fights ultimately come from being cornered where diplomacy and critical thinking no longer works. Now, Kobayashi is in the WWII era and there are no samurai defenders of justice to save the day, only a complicated mess of Imperialism, nationalism, and patriotism that one lowly humanist finds himself in constant confrontation with. Getting a job at some ore mines, Kaji hopes to find a productive job that will keep him out of the front lines of the war while doing the best to preserve human life in any way he can. At first arrival (in a noteworthily dusty and windy fashion), he confuses his new bosses and their coworkers by claiming he can increase production by--get this--treating workers well and giving them an incentive to work. These terribly radical ideas that clash so harshly against the typical production cycle of "beat the worker, get work done" is at first met with some success, much to the surprise and elation of the workers, but soon afterward the military appears with a cargo of 500 Chinese POWs to increase labor in the mines, and Kaji finds himself a slave owner of hundreds of desperate, starved, unwilling "special workers." Now no one has any patience with his pleas as he attempts to find a way of treating the new workers fairly, stemming escape attempts, and working the complicated and corrupt politics of so many military, industry, and government men.
You know where this is going, but despite the 3hr40min playlength, it goes by rather rapidly. Again, there are no samurai sword dances to bring justice and hope to the "end" of the first part, but nevertheless most viewers should find themselves riveted to the screen as fully fleshed out, realistic characters struggle for power and attention and try to save lives--whether it be other people's lives or their own. This movie was shot in the late 1950s, not too far removed from the actual war, and Kobayashi fearlessly and directly confronts everything he observed wrong with the system during wartime Japan. Historical cultural stresses are recognized too, as the Chinese laborers and Japanese masters are constantly confronted with dehumanization and racism, and even a lone Korean appears as a guy "who is hated by both sides" and, in his own way, becomes a massive wrench thrown into an already crumbling machine. The dialog is also very precise and meaningful, important in a nearly four hour long movie, and there's a surprisingly lot of it considering the landscape its shot in. Which brings me to my final point: this is all set against the backdrop of a mining country-side, and Kobayashi uses the natural Japanese landscape to backdrop an epic humanitarian struggle against a sort of severe and rigid lifelessness. The landscape shots themselves can keep you interested through much of the movie, and Kobayashi's use of widescreen composition would make Sergio Leone's jaw drop (if it didn't actually, it would).
Kobayashi's storytelling, also, is rather a little more accessible to Western cultures, too. It's more Kurosawa than Mizoguchi or Ozu. Along with many references to Western influences, the actor who plays Kaji looks more like a Westerner than most of the other characters around him (during the dust storm scene he almost looks like Clark Gable...), and he even gets judged poorly for "so many Western books". I'm not entirely sure that Kobayashi looked to the West and found a much better solution to authoritarianism, but he certainly is not attached to Japanese styles of film-making despite his intimacy and familiarity with the culture (which, by the way, extends beyond even the typical countryman's understanding of his own nation). In this movie many direct references are made to the fact that Kaji does not necessarily fit in, and that his mentality is literally Other than the predominate Japanese culture. What makes it great, though, is that Kaji is no perfect being and the other characters are never simple caricatures. Kaji approaches issues with straight-forward critical thinking, and despite how strong his convictions, surprisingly never falls into idealism. It's rare to see a movie like that from any culture, much less one that's able to sustain it for such a long period of time.
We'll see how Kaji survives being on the front lines. Methinks the dialog will continue but the story is going to get a lot more messy.
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