this is a detached symphonic masterpiece whose orchestra consists of various artillery, explosions, boots & wheels & horses, rain & mud. they are primitive instruments which tootle & bang continuously into a hypnotic, textured music describing the experience of war. nameless grunts traverse the wild landscape of china, inch by inch, in nameless fields of grass, over nameless hillocks, filthy & farting & wet. nobody says very much. we never know exactly where we are or what should happen next. we just keep marching.
there is a sort of commander (yamamoto reizaburo) over the different, straggly units all moving in the same general direction: into china. we know him because he's got a mustache & natty uniform. (presumably because he rides a horse. there are no vehicles with engines in this film.) we get to know a few faces in our own small unit, they are ours because they belong to our sergeant, the one with the star on his helmet, played by kosugi osamu in a career-best performance. the director keeps us distant, though, he keeps us marching. about 30 minutes in, he lets us have a quiet moment with the sarge as he waits in a sun-soaked field for his men to bring some piece of rattle-trap equipment back from the lines. from his left breast pocket he pulls a photo of his 2 little kids. XCU photo, XCU his face, child voices background: "papa, papa." we go "awww, his kids!"
our next quiet moment with sarge comes an hour later, as he reccos a village from which civilian survivors have been seen to flee. as he wriggles up a grassy knoll with camera behind him, we hear a baby crying & a woman singing a Chinese lullaby. we see, beneath him from the grasses, a female arm reach out, bobbing up & down in a wide patting motion in time to the song. then the song stops. the arm sinks. sarge scrambles down into the grass. XCU crying infant, XCU his face. as the camera pulls back, he gropes about & finds a piece of sacking. he tucks it round the baby like a blanket. the baby keeps on crying. sarge gets up & goes.
this time we don't go "awww." we go "well, what the hell else can he do." we keep marching.
FYI not available; full prints intact. how it made it past the censors is anybody's guess.
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