Perhaps Kobayashi's most sordid film, Black River is an exposé of the rampant corruption on and around U.S. military bases following World War II. Kobayashi spirals out from the story of a ... See full summary »
On his deathbed, a wealthy businessman announces that his fortune is to be split equally among his three illegitimate children, whose whereabouts are unknown to his family and colleagues. A... See full summary »
From the Criterion Collection: "Among the first Japanese films to deal directly with the scars of World War II, this drama about a group of rank-and-file Japanese soldiers jailed for crimes... See full summary »
The story takes place in feudal Japan, when any commerce with the rest of the world was strictly prohibited. An idealist suddenly appears in an isolated inn (the one that the title refers ... See full summary »
Kaji is sent to the Japanese army labeled Red and is mistreated by the vets. Along his assignment, Kaji witnesses cruelties in the army; he revolts against the abusive treatment spent to the recruit Obara that commits suicide; he also sees his friend Shinjô Ittôhei defecting to the Russian border; and he ends in the front to fight a lost battle against the Russian tanks division. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The Human Condition (Ningen no jôken) is a 9,5 hour long epic film trilogy directed by Masaki Kobayashi, based on the six volume novel by Junpei Gomikawa. The trilogy stays true to the novel's composition by being divided into six parts, meaning that each of the three installments are split in two parts, in between which are intermissions. Both parts in the first film begin with the same opening credits sequence, showing us some stoneworks portraying dramatic imagery (the similar intro opens all three films). The three movies, each long 3 hours or more, are called No Greater Love, Road to Eternity and A Soldier's Prayer.
So far, I'm two thirds into the trilogy and I find Road to Eternity to be lesser than the first film. RtE follows Kaji as a conscript in Japanese military, first concentrating on his experiences during basic training and later shifting to a battlefield. Now, RtE surpasses NGL on a technical scale; there's no sugar-coating of historical events, no Japanese actors trying to pass up as the Chinese (except in one, scarcely important scene) and no melodramatic orchestral music (instead, RtE sports a militaristic, more quiet soundtrack).
However, this entry in the trilogy reaches the point when the entire story starts to get really repetitive and you really get the feeling that you've seen Kaji humiliated and beaten up enough times to start getting tired by the film. There are a LOT of forgettable scenes of little importance which do nothing but prolong the runtime in order to provide artificial oomph. This is also true for NGL to some extent, but in the first movie I found the storyline to be way more absorbing. Most of RtE occurs in darkly lit, claustrophobic barracks and tight areas where you can't even differentiate the characters. This change of location just isn't as interesting to me as the camp in NGL, but it makes sense because Kaji's humanism is completely beaten to the ground in this movie, and the sudden set change reflects that.
Even though I think that the second movie is less captivating than the first, it still has two powerful things going for it; first, the cinematography, once again, is absolutely amazing and Kobayashi once more shows his talent in crafting widescreen, chiaroscuro shots. Second, the final 30 minutes on the battlefield are brilliantly shot, acted out, put together and manage to be brutal, tense and contemplative all in one. Obviously the actors playing the Soviet soldiers are Japanese so Kobayashi doesn't show their faces, but I think that little detail actually adds to the movie's symbolic value.
By the way, the reason why this is the shortest entry in the trilogy is probably because it was cut. The scene where Michiko strips naked for Kaji was censored by a government comitee.
I should also mention that this movie heavily inspired Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (which I think is a much better film by the way). The novel upon which FMJ is based on, The Short-Timers, was written after Kobayashi's trilogy. Here are the similarities between the two films:
1) Both films are divided into two parts. First part is basic training, the second is set on a battlefield.
2) The main characters in both films (Kaji, Joker) are recruits who oppose the brutal military conditioning, but in the same time are able to adapt to their surroundings without losing their ideals. Both Kaji and Joker have feuds with their respective drill instructors, however the DIs also respect them to a point for showing their guts.
3) Both Kaji and Joker befriend a fellow recruit (Shinjo, Cowboy). They have discussions while cleaning the toilet.
4) Both groups have a weak, slow recruit who isn't able to adapt to given orders. In RtE it's pvt. Obara (who strangely looks like pvt. Baldrick from Blackadder Goes Forth), in FMJ it's pvt. Pyle. In both films, they do something stupid which makes the DI hate them (throwing a cigarette in the water barrel in RtE, hiding a jelly doughnut in FMJ).
5) Kaji/Joker takes Obara/Pyle under his wing, but everyone else hates the weak recruit. This character is constantly humiliated in both films. In FMJ, he's forced to act like a baby, while in RtE he has to behave like a geisha (sgt. Hartman also likes to compare his men with ladies).
6) Both characters get fed up and commit suicide on a toilet seat by pointing the rifle upwards and shooting (Pyle out of insanity, Obara out of shame). The music in this scene is very similar in both Kubrick's and Kobayashi's film. Pyle's suicide isn't committed on the toilet in The Short Timers, but instead in front of the other members of the group.
7) Some training sequences and punishments are very similar, if not identical.
Here's the album with comparison images: http://imgur.com/a/XeNP5
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