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When people think of anti-war films titles such as Platoon, All Quiet
on the Western Front and Schindler's List almost immediately come to
mind; such films have defined the genre in American culture. However
very few directors have provided the perspective from the axis point of
view, and fewer still were able to do so in a way that humanizes all
countries, not just the protagonist's. Masaki Kobayashi, who is most
well known for his samurai pictures such as Seppuku and Samurai
Rebellion is able to form such a film, without even a hint of
The series of films spans nearly ten hours, following a pacifist named Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai), as he struggles to keep his principles during war times. First as an overseer of a P.O.W. camp, then as a soldier. Due to the length of the film, the level of character development and acting quality, we end up feeling his frustration, pain and triumphs, as each occasion leaves room for both a triumph of the human spirit and subjugation of it. Kaji despises both warfare and violence of all kinds, yet tries to rationalize it for the good of those around him. We become so attached to him and his struggle, that we begin to feel similarly, and as a result we are left with one of the most moving chronicles of the loss that war becomes. I won't spoil anything, but any viewer will be floored by the end, it left me utterly breathless.
So overall I recommend it quite highly, its one of the few great anti-war statements that has aged VERY well in the modern day, and possibly Kobayashi's greatest work. Never slow, yet at the same time never glorifying the action, it is a film that I eagerly await to see re-released.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I disagree with the other reviewer here; I think you can see these
three movies individually, although you must see them in the correct
order. To see all three in one sitting strikes me as something that
might almost be impossible, not just physically, but emotionally.
It is beyond me how these films escaped my attention all these years--I'd only become aware of them recently. Clearly, this trilogy is one of the great film achievements of all time, right up there with Eisenstein and Fellini. Never mind that the message of the films is overwhelming emotionally--the sheer technical achievement of making them is almost beyond my comprehension. The cinematography is first rate all the way through--the acting is the best you'll ever see. You are not watching a movie, you're sharing the experiences of people in impossible situations.
Don't read reviews, don't even read the DVD box (as I did on the first one) because you may encounter spoilers. This is one experience you do NOT want to have spoiled. Just be aware this is very serious fare, it is a drama in every sense of the word. There are moments of incredible tenderness, but there is absolutely nothing to laugh at--there is NO comic relief of any kind. it is deadly serious all the way through.
I wasn't particularly eager to watch Human Condition because, knowing the plot summary, it sounded like too much of a downer. Yes, the subject is depressing, but great art is uplifting. This is great art.
Ningen no jôken is a masterpiece film but is also painful to watch most of the time. Nonetheless, it is a tour de force to be lauded for its direction, cinematography and acting at every turn. Most of those commenting in previous discussions mention the virulent anti-war sentiment of the film which is abundantly evident. It was interesting that much of the film is autobiographical, inspired by Kobayashi's war experiences. He too refused to be an officer when he qualified, and stayed a private throughout the war. An interesting point came up when I was watching the fourth DVD in the Criterion edition of The HumanCondition which is a series of three insightful interviews. During his comments the director Masahiro Shinoda mentioned that he thought at the time, the romantic love Kaji had for his wife, Michiko, was overly sentimental and unrealistic. He thought that it was due to the fact that Kobayashi and his peers were born of another age whose romanticism was the norm and unsullied by his generation's sobering war experience. He said that he had also consulted the internet to see the opinions of the film among contemporary young people in Japan today, and found that they too, thought the love unrealistic. He felt the love should have been more erotic and less idealized. The remarks of another commentator solidified my opinion of this issue about Kaji's love. That writer stated that the title really means more like "condition for being human." This confirmed my opinion that Kobayashi's point of the film is that what makes one human, in the best sense of the word, is love. Otherwise we devolve into some type of cruel bestiality found in the phrase 'man's inhumanity to man.' This inhumanity is evident throughout the film, whether in the sadism of the other Japanese soldiers, the cruelty of the guards to the Chinese prisoners, or in the malice of the of the Russian overseers. However, the Kaji character is set apart: he sticks to his ideals, he is humble, he displays selflessness as seen when he gives his food to another or when leading the men and puts them ahead of himself. He is a type of everyman whose being is elevated above merely satisfying physical needs and responding to base instincts. He remains an ennobled human not a saint above the fray, but his love gives him the will to live, to continue on and to even do good when surrounded by evil. Love is the condition for being human.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Watching part three of THE HUMAN CONDITION made me notice how much Kaji
has changed as a character . The first two films have the character as
an over the top parody of a noble everyman that no sensible person can
relate to whilst here Kaji is someone who is totally believable in his
pragmatic approach to survival . So much so that you'll find yourself
asking why on earth the screenwriters and director couldn't have
portrayed him in a far more subtle manner in the preceding films ? It's
not so much as character development but character over-development
that the first two movies suffered from
Still the first half of A Soldier's Prayer is probably the most compelling part of the trilogy . The Japanese have been defeated in Manchuria and try to find a way to escape to Japan with the only alternatives being a Soviet gulag or a lynching from the Chinese. Watching this segment instantly reminded me of the post apocalypse genre like DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS , or 28 DAYS LATER but instead of murderous plants or hyperactive zombies the survivors are fighting against other human beings . It mirrors factual history and despite the real life atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese during the war it's nigh on impossible not to be totally compelled by the dilemmas facing Kaji and his men
The screenplay also deserves great credit for pulling the rug out from under the audience . Throughout the running time you're always expecting Kaji to run in to someone from his past - a belligerent antagonist from the first two films or the socialist deserter or pretty young nurse from the second film or perhaps even his wife Michiko but none of this actually happens with the only reunion being with a relatively minor character
The film ends with a sequence that is so bleak and downbeat that it will stay with you a lifetime . But this leads to an internal confusion as to what the story is telling us . Think about this : In the first film if Kaji had towed the party line and run the labour camp as he'd been told he would have very likely have found himself on a boat back to Japan . Instead he got conscripted in to the army and ultimately died a lonely death on some tundra . Are the audience being shown a form of death worship where naive idealism and self delusion at making things better for the rest of the species will lead to a noble death ? The message of the film is confused
A Soldier's Prayer continues the breath taking beauty of the previous two films . .Make no mistake .Every single scene is breath taking thanks to its cinematography and framing and a special mention too for the set design . It's a film that owes much to its technical merits and I'd have no hesitation telling everyone in the human race to see it . However after seeing it again I can't say it's the masterpiece I once thought it was since since there's a lack of moral ambiguity to the self righteous , self deluded , idealistic hero . People you love often let you down and it's the same with cinema
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Human Condition, Part III The war is over in real time, the battle
is over in film time, and Kaji has regained his sanity at the expense
of his entire platoon--out of 160, only three of his fellow soldiers
are left after the battle, and they begin the trek across war-torn
Manchuria in search of home. Despite Kaji's morals slipping--he has now
gone from someone who grieved smacking a man to someone who has
killed--he finds his humanist beliefs to be highly successful in the
anarchic post-war land, as people are drawn by the power of his
principles. He isn't able to save everybody, but he manages to travel
through a deep forest (the entire movie's finest sequences, both
photographically and dramatically), gain soldiers from various
still-remaining guerrilla camps, and make it all the way to a village
before he's sold out by the village's seductress and sent to a Russian
POW camp. Unsurprisingly, there he finds that his belief in the
righteousness of the Reds is just another form of the same broken
system that has destroyed his character throughout the last eight hours
of screen time, and, losing all morality and sense of critical
thinking, he finally breaks free to die an existential death.
The innocent to save this time around is Terada, a young soldier he saved from battle who worships Kaji and tries to follow Kaji to the bitter end--and bitter his end becomes. Along with Chen from the first part and Obara from the second, that makes one character per movie that Kaji reaches out for for a form of redemption, only for the system to swallow them up and cast them out like less than meat. Kaji's own personal morality, however, is the biggest failing of all, as he goes from a pacifist to someone capable of killing a co-prisoner by beating him to death with a length of chain. Kaji traces three bad decisions, and the final one is the attempt to escape, which turns out fatal. He also goes from one in the position of power over POWs to a POW himself, and incapable of communication with his superiors, unlike when he was the superior and spoke Chinese.
A final plot arc that can be traced is this. In the first movie, Kaji looked slightly Western in appearance and his demeanor was often remarked upon. The same thing happens in the third movie, only this time he looks like a revolutionary leader (there is a visual comparison in the Soviet camp between him and Lenin), and everyone remarks about his beard, which stands out from all the other men and indicates a different station for him. It's interesting to note that in the first movie he's powerful because he CAN resist against authoritarianism; but in the last movie he's most powerful when authoritarianism is absent completely and the characters are faced with abject survival. Nevertheless, unable to build a new, principled community out of nothing, he has only the wide horizons of Manchuria to struggle against, and the pock-marked stations of society that continually block his path to his beloved Michiko, until nature itself forces him to realize that he has betrayed her by betraying his principles.
Kaji is certainly a remarkable character throughout the 9 1/2 hour epic, but there are some ways in which his resistance is hard to swallow, considering its futility. This happens especially poorly in the second part, but in the third part it springs from necessity, which is a welcome character turn in Kaji but involves a sudden change in the supporting characters from fully developed individuals to slightly stereotypical Bad Guys, especially in the sixth section of the movie and the finale. Despite the length of the entire film, the ending still feels a little rushed and the moments of begging are so out of place they almost feel like dream sequences, though literal. Nevertheless, if you take the entire film to be a spiral, then the sixth section is where gravity takes over and the thrust of Kaji's convictions ceases all effectiveness. Thus why the third part contains not one single instance of the word "humanism" and only one feeble attempt at the word "socialism".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This third part of the Human Conditon trilogy is my personal favorite,
which says a lot considering how sensational the first two films were.
For Soldier's Prayer, Masaki Kobayashi takes the 'hero' of the series,
Kaji, out of the war-zone and now as a fully-formed leader of a
militia-level group of soldiers who are just looking to get home. In a
sense this is what the series is about- the kind of same sense that
Lord of the Rings is about destroying a ring and getting back home-
only this time laced with the kind of dread and doom that most
directors wouldn't come close to trying let alone accomplishing. It's a
tale of survival, not just physically and mortally, but spiritually-
the human spirit, I mean to say. Even as Kaji drifts further along to
his doom in that freezing Siberian tundra, his spirit and conscience
and hopes to get back to Machiko are still intact. It's not simply "he
died, the end," though if you feel tears welling up in your eyes it's
not cruel in manipulation. This is heartbreak cinema at its most
crushing, and honest.
And Kobayashi also makes it about ruminating on war-time once it's come to a close; he uses flashbacks and voice-over to emphasize this time, unlike in previous films, what the characters (mostly Kaji but sometimes others) are haunted by and wish for, the bodies they've lain in their paths or the rot they've witnessed (one moment that will haunt me is the Soviet truck dumping the woman's body, played back a second time after first shown in long-shot in a closer angle). It's also exciting seeing Kobayashi trying new styles and methods to amp up the tension and atmosphere, as seen incredibly in those dire forest scenes with Kaji, his men, and the tag-alongs looking for any food and sanity available. The tone for the first part of the picture is certain in its uncertainty, of where these soldiers and Kaji will go to, if they're lost or going the right way, if they'll get caught. And yet, even with the grim scenes of violence and bloodshed (more graphic than you might expect) and fatalism put to 11, a few bits of the poetic beauty from past films emerge here (my favorite was a simple scene of a woman washing her face on the riverside).
By the time the second half comes around, it becomes the darkest it's been in the trilogy as Kaji and his men surrender to the Soviets and things have come full circle for our main character from the first film, kind-hearted labor supervisor to hardened POW witnessing the same BS he saw on the other side years before. It's also here that Kobayashi strikes his toughest and most absorbing ground with the socio-political content. Now it's not simply questioning the methods of Japanese, but socialism vs. fascism, whatever either really may be, how terrible things become between two different peoples in a room without a right connection (in a great scene we see Kaji on a quasi-trial for sabotage and his interpreter intentionally botches it up), and, equally tragic, the betrayal of ones own people as seen by Tange episode.
This goes without saying the last fifteen minutes or strike the deepest chords, but the entire picture is just about perfect by accumulating all that's happened to and around Kaji, and not losing any of the meaning in the themes while at the same time keeping it personal, intimate cinema. You might even laugh a few times from the moments of relief by the supporting characters, and Kobayashi even navigates those little dialogs and gallows humor cleverly in the midst of such horror and drama. But, really, it's the Tatsuya Nakadai show. This and Ran are his best performances, bar-none, and particularly here he's able to express Kaji's growth as a leader, as a torn conscience, as a rejector of anything regarding duty and service to country just to survive, as a now somewhat accepted killer (the one murder of the Russian guard keeps at him for a while), and as a lost soul unable to get back to his old life with Machiko. It's an incredible transformation over the course of ten hours that marks him as one of the greats to come out of his country.
Overall, the trilogy is an immense, overwhelming feat of intelligent, sorrowful film-making that laments what is capable in the worst of men while giving us a hero to root for, for all his misgivings and eventual flaws, and to finally see as an essentially good and moral person becoming whole on the Japanese side of World War 2. A+
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
By 1945 four and a half million Japanese soldiers were trying to return
home from China (Manchuria), a land they had victimized for fourteen
years. Japan's defeated government had de facto abandoned its soldiers
and civilians, including those who had been sent to occupy Manchuria.
The Japanese soldiers and their colonist families tried to make their
way back to Japan as well as they could. In this harsh and relentless
film, few aspects of society offer solace for the hard wartime lives of
the Japanese soldiers and their Chinese victims. The army that the
Japanese worshiped during wartime is corrupt and cruel, and senior
soldiers spend more time abusing and humiliating new recruits than
fighting the enemy. The emperor the Japanese adored as a god is hardly
mentioned. Religion of any kind is hardly mentioned. Parents are hardly
mentioned. As for women, only one soldier, Kaji, loves and respects his
wife; women in all other instances are prostitutes or targets of rape.
Every institution humans count on for comfort or loyalty in peacetime
has been corrupted by the circumstances of war, or has simply
disappeared. Only love between individuals gives a few of the
characters the strength to carry on.
It's bleak, folks, and it doesn't let up for nine hours. So if you get a chance to see it or if it ever comes out on DVD, prepare yourself for something long and serious. I saw it in August 2008 at Film Forum in NYC. I don't think it has ever been available on video in the US, but now that Film Forum has given lead actor Tatsuya Nakadai a well-deserved retrospective, perhaps Criterion will bring it out.
I liked the film very much, but I have to mention a few negatives. First, the music. It's always in your face, telling you what to think, and its style is 1950s Hollywood epic. Second, the overall atmosphere. The movie's Drama with a capital D is often overdone, and many shots are held too long, after the point is made. It's hard to admire all of the film, but there's no doubt that it's moving and serious.
If you like the actors of the Japanese golden era (1945-65), almost all of them are here. Aside from the lead, Tatsuya Nakadai, we see: Nobuo Nakamura; So Yamamura; Keiji Sada; Minoru Chiaki, playing not his usual cheery character, but a sadistic army man; Seiji Miyaguchi, the taciturn expert swordsman of the Seven Samurai, here given a lot to say; Eijiro Tono, the greatest drunk in Japanese film (Tokyo Story), here in a cameo but still, as always, in the kitchen; Chishu Ryu; Hideko Takamine; Susumu Fujita, one of Kurosawa's early stalwarts, in an excellent small part; and I've probably forgotten a few. Enjoy. Signed, Don Buck.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
And the epic saga continues
Read this only after the reviews for parts one and two. There won't be any spoilers but the review will make more sense.
Having survived the near-total extermination of his unit at the end of Part II, Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai) wanders through war-torn China with a group of hopeless survivors. Everyone they encounter deals with defeat and despair in their own way.
It all comes to an end with style, though that style is bleaker and more episodic than either of the previous chapters. The great tragedy of Kaji's life is that the closest he comes to being free of the horrors of war, the further he is geographically speaking from the only thing he truly wants: reunion with his loving wife. This detail gives the film, in many ways your standard squad war film, an important extra dimension it would never have had as a stand-alone piece.
After about 10 hours in 3 films, Kobayashi has given us a POW drama, a character study about duty VS dignity, a war film that crushed Full Metal Jacket, a roaming war-set nightmare that rivals Apocalypse Now, all wrapped up in an uncompromisingly humanist masterpiece. You will feel exhausted by the end of this, physically 10 hours of straight cinema-scope horrors takes a toll on the eyes and mentally. But it is undoubtedly one of the mind-expanding works of film, and one of the greatest tragedies ever put to the screen.
If you'd ever wondered, now you know what cinema's answer to Hamlet looks like.
The Japanese troops are defeated by the Soviets and Kaji (Tatsuya
Nakadai) heads with three survivors to South Manchurian expecting to
meet his wife. Along their crossing through the enemy line in the
Manchurian land, other Japanese survivors join Kaji's group, but they
need to fight against the Chinese militias and the Soviets.
When they reach a Japanese village with women and one old man, a militia arrives in the place and Kaji and his men surrender to the Soviet to spare the women. The POWs are sent to a labor work camp and Kaji sees no difference between the treatment of the Japanese fascists and the Soviet communists, in which principles Kaji believed. He decides to escape from the camp to meet his beloved Michiko again.
"The Human Condition Parts V & VI" is the last sequel of the heartbreaking anti-war masterpiece by Masaki Kobayashi. The story is impressively realistic and magnificently shot with top-notch camera work, giving the sensation of a documentary. I have seen many powerful movies about war, such as "Der Untergang", "Taegukgi hwinalrimyeo", "La Battaglia di Algeri", "Paths of Glory" and "Apocalypse Now" among others. But "The Human Condition" is certainly the most scathing antiwar movie that I have seen and I did not feel the 574 minutes running time in a black-and-white movie spoken in Japanese, Mandarin and Russian with English subtitles.
It is impressive to see the treatment spent by the fascist Japanese soldiers for the rookies and how Kaji grows-up and learns how his idealistic concept of communism is shattered when he becomes a POW and swaps his initial position of supervisor to the one of prisoner. The hopeless conclusion fits perfectly to this masterpiece and shows that in times of war, people are far from the condition for being human to survive. My vote is ten.
Title (Brazil): Not Available
This trilogy was a grueling and rewarding. It was chilling to watch but
I persevered. It was about the conflict between nationalism and the
individual struggling for humanism. If you transfer yourself to post
WW2 Japan you could see how powerful this film was. It was necessary
for the soul searching that was to heal the results of the war.
It is as important today as it was then.
This trilogy affected me deeply after watching it.
There is hardly a frame in the ten hours that does not have any sub-text associated with it.
The ten hour film format has some merits maybe it will catch on.
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