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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
Part II of Masaki Kobayashi's "Human Condition" follows the noble Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai), now forced into military service, as he tries to hold on to his conscience despite increasingly absurd circumstances.
If Part I was a POW drama with a love story sub-plot, influencing many that followed it, then Part II is one of the best and rawest of the original boot-camp films, planting seeds for, in particular, "Full Metal Jacket". In fact, Kaji's training with the Imperial Army makes US Boot Camp look like daycare, uninclined as director Kobayashi is to pull punches when it comes to the ritual sadism of the Japanese military, which he personally endured in real life. The film bravely confronts Kaji's attitude, an almost holier-than-thou morality than annoys bullying veterans. This forces Kaji to deeply transform as a character and as a human being, from preppy moralist to actual, worn hero, a transition Nakadai pulls off with tremendous effect and efficiency.
But back to the bigger picture. Like Kubrick's similar and, one should point out, lesser film of the same genre, this is two pictures in one: a boot-camp film about the dehumanization of the military, and a war film. The first two thirds are all intensive training, with bullying veterans and hapless recruits. Here Kaji faces an interesting contradiction: he rejects the war with all his heart, yet he has it in him to be a perfect warrior. There is the inevitable inept recruit pushed to the brink subplot, but it is handled with more humanity and sense of absurdity than most other similar films could dream of.
Finally, the film takes us to the front, where all the bluster and empty honor fades in front of a line of charging enemy tanks, a startlingly effective battle scene that separates the men from the boys, though not in ways they had anticipated. Kobayashi's film rejects the traditional "bridge syndrome" typical of middle installments in film trilogies, and gives us the perfect Part II: a self-contained enough story with enough substance and depth to stand on its own, while drawing from its predecessor and opening up interesting possibilities for the finale.
Roll on part III.
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