The Human Condition I: No Greater Love (1959) Poster

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The struggle for humanity in an inhuman environment
FADrury14 April 2003
An interesting film that portrays the struggles of an idealistic young Japanese man who is challenged to employ his idealism in the service of the 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. Further complicating matters is the profound sense of national prejudice that shapes the relationships between the various characters. To the workers & Chinese 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.
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catching the humanism train...
MisterWhiplash27 July 2008
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!
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Powerful anti-war statement, with a few false notes
KFL9 December 2001
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.
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One of the greatest anti-war movies of all time
shemichaels17 May 2008
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 beauty.

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?
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The Human Condition I: No Greater Love
mevmijaumau20 October 2014
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.

No Greater Love introduces the main character Kaji, a pacifist during the chaotic mess that was Japan during WW2. To avoid being drafted, he moves to Manchuria with his wife, where he becomes a labor camp supervisor and clashes with the oppressive nature of camp officials and their lower-ranked men.

Masaki Kobayashi's films often feature individuals against an oppressive and totalitarian system, be it the feudal Japan in Harakiri and Samurai Rebellion, or WW2 occupied Manchuria in The Human Condition. Kobayashi himself was drafted into the army and sent to Manchuria during the war, meaning that the character of Kaji is not far away from the director himself. Some people accuse the trilogy to be too melodramatic - well, if that's how Kobayashi saw the situation, and he was there, I don't have much of a big problem over it.

Kaji is brilliantly portrayed by Tatsuya Nakadai, one of the most versatile Japanese actors. He handles the role fantastically and lives up to the challenge of carrying the entire 9,5-hour plot on his back. Michiyo Aratama, who played Michiko, is perhaps more well-known for her role in Kobayashi's Kwaidan.

The Human Condition offers some brilliant widescreen composition and magnificent B&W imagery, as most Kobayashi films do. The film has some problems, though, most of which are of strictly technical nature. First, some of the violent scenes were filmed awkwardly, like the whipping scene listed under IMDb "Goofs". Second, because the entire cast was Japanese, the Mandarin spoken by the miners is very unrealistic (doesn't bother me personally, but it's still there). Third, the mining conditions are surprisingly underplayed and were even harsher in real life. Fourth, the music is sometimes too annoying, loud and even useless in several scenes.

But overall, this is definitely a film you have to check out if you're into Japanese cinema, WW2 films, or epic films in general.

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Like Finding The Love Of Your Life Wasn't The Person You Remember
Theo Robertson20 December 2010
Warning: 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
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The Immortal Story
OttoVonB8 March 2013
Masaki Kobayashi's reflection on the Japanese experience in occupying Manchuria, fighting World War II, and dealing with defeat is a staggering piece of cinema. Clocking in at just under 10 hours, "The Human Condition" – what a title! – takes us on a journey with Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai) through a POW film, a war film and a survival film, tied together by a loose love story, weaving all these strands together with great care over its epic but impeccably paced run-time.

The first part sees Kaji, a young, well-to-do Japanese, begin work as labor supervisor in a POW camp in occupied Manchuria. What could have been an interesting honeymoon with new loving wife Michiko and the start to a promising career slowly devolves into a nightmare: Kaji tries to stay true to his human principles while getting increasingly tangled in a complex web that involves escaping prisoners, abusive guards, and a tyrannical, bullish army that is above the law.

As an indictment of the Japanese Imperial Army, it is all the more haunting for coming from one who served under it. And to Kobayashi's credit, never does this come across as a crass moral lecture. It is a stunning, gripping study in mounting desperation, anchored by a powerful turn from the ever-dependable Nakadai.

Japanese cinema of this period has its quirks, stylish acting and a tendency to melodrama that can bemuse Western viewers. While I find Kobayashi less impaired by these traits than many of his contemporaries – especially in the cold, restrained anger and sorrow of Harakiri, his masterpiece – he gets heroic support from his star of choice. Far from the histrionics and bravado of a Toshiro Mifune, Japan's other megastar of the 50s and early 60s, Tatsuya Nakadai's magnetic charisma is far more subdued and heartfelt. Though our hero is at times unbelievably decent, perhaps buoyed by his youthful optimism and love for his wife, Nakadai makes every situation and painful decision resonate.

The technical credits are the usual for this under-appreciated director's work: arresting visuals, sweeping movement, carefully crafted sets. And the supporting players leave their mark, with a stand-out in each episode. In this instance, particularly Kaji's conflicted assistant, originally mistakable for a simple brute, finds very different ways of dealing with his own crisis of conscience.

This is definitely a film you have to see. Just make sure you clear your schedule, as you don't want to spread the viewing chunks too thin if watching in fragments
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A simple soldier's view of this film.
Jacob Anon12 October 2013
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.
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A masterpiece.
matrac14 September 2000
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.
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Spellbinding filmmaking
Tequila-189 November 1999
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.
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Too simplistic to be really captivating - you can't win them all I guess
chaos-rampant6 August 2008
Warning: 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.
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Realistic and critical humanist response
Polaris_DiB11 December 2009
Warning: 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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Anti-War Masterpiece
Claudio Carvalho13 February 2013
In the World War II, the pacifist and humanist Japanese Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai) accepts to travel with his wife Michiko (Michiyo Aratama) to the tiny Manchurian village Loh Hu Liong to work as supervisor in an iron ore mine to avoid to be summoned to the military service. Kaji, who defends communists principles, works with Okishima (Sô Yamamura) and he implements a better treatment to the laborers and improves the mine production.

When the feared Kempetai (The "Military Police Corps", the military police arm of the Imperial Japanese Army from 1881 to 1945) brings six hundred Chinese POWs to the mine, Kaji negotiates with their leaders expecting them to control their comrades. However the methods of Kaji upset the corrupt system in the site, and the foreman Furuya (Kôji Mitsui) plots a scheme to use the naive Chen (Akira Ishihama) to turn off the electrical power of the barbwire fences to allow the prisoners to escape.

When seven prisoners are falsely accused of an attempt of fleeing, a cruel Kempetai sergeant uses his sword to behead the prisoners. When Kaji protests, the POWs react sparing the lives of four prisoners but Kaji is arrested and tortured. When he is released, he is summoned to join the army and accused of being Red.

"The Human Condition – Parts I & II" is the 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 bought the box released by the Criterion approximately one year ago, and only today I have just watched the two first DVD with about 400 minutes running time. Tomorrow I will finish watching this masterpiece. My vote is ten.

Title (Brazil): Not Available
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A Masterpiece--But Warning: Spoiler on Back of DVD Box!
ekeby17 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Midway through this astonishing film I grabbed the DVD box to find out how long the movie was and read the summary on the back cover. BIG mistake. There's a description of the ending, and I'm extremely unhappy I inadvertently sabotaged part of this experience.

You will not have had, most likely, the experience of living in a prison camp or working as a slave in a mine. Nevertheless, you'll recognize that the brutality of the characters in this film is not really any different from that which you experience every day in your comfortable first-world life. With a heavy heart you'll realize people act the same way, whether it's office politics or whipping a slave. Same difference. This is why this movie is so compelling.

Similarly, you'll be acutely aware of how comfortable your first-world life is. Watching this movie you will count your blessings as you realize, with some unease, how easily civilization as you know it could deteriorate into what you see on the screen. Think Iraq. Think your own back yard.

I've only just seen this first part of the trilogy and am eager to see the rest. This is unquestionably a masterpiece at every level--story, production, cinematography, acting, etcetera. Pay close attention to all the characters. I didn't at first, and lost the thread of the story at times as a result. Nevertheless, the film was completely and utterly spellbinding.
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No Saints
kurosawakira31 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
"Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) and "Profound Desires of the Gods" (1968) are epic, immense films in size and scope. So is Gance's "Napoléon" (1927). And still, Kobayashi's "The Human Condition", released in three parts from 1959 to 1961, tends to stand out. Three films, each three hours or longer, and still a singular journey, "one of the most monumental acts of personal expiation in all cinematic history."[1] The quote is from Philip Kemp, and it is good to know a few things about Kobayashi the director. Critical of the war and shipped to Manchuria, living as a POW under the Americans, he's not that unlike to Kaji the protagonist. This is a film made by someone who had seen war, and knew firsthand what its criticism meant. I believe this to be an important point to remember as one discusses Kaji's character, and his perceived flaws.

It's easy enough to brush the first film aside as a mere introduction to a story that unfolds and ripens in its due course. This interpretation is enhanced by Kaji's character, whose personality and actions are seen as naive and altogether misinformed and stubborn. When one sees the trilogy as a kind of developing progression of his philosophy and ethics, it is easy to overlook the virtues of this film and disregard it as elementary.

Yet this is no lesser work. In visual terms, the deserted space of the mining complex, inhabited by so small people against such an infinite backdrop, anticipates the visually contrapuntal existential alienation of the sixties Teshigahara and Antonioni.

Kaji, played to perfection by Nakadai Tatsyua, is no saint. I think it would be too easy to attribute to him only naive and pure intentions, as he's actually a rather ruthless individual from the beginning. He's an idealist, sure; often naive, certainly; but far from blameless, and what often seems like his naiveté might actually betray stubbornness rooted in self-righteousness. In the very first scene where he discusses marriage and sex with Michiko he certainly seems to me as holier-than-thou and standing on a pedestal in how he proves a point by playing a trick on her.

Indeed, while it might be eloquent to describe the three films as his downward spiral, his fall from grace, I think this is amiss. What is irritating about Kaji is not that he's always in the right but that he persistently thinks he's in the right. He's so devoted to his cause that nothing else matters. This is his strength and weakness, something which some viewers too easily tend to attribute to be the film's weakness. Much of the film's greatest drama comes from his stubbornness, bordering on and often transcending the inane and annoying, especially his utter lack of subtlety.

Yet he needs to be this way. Not only so that what follows will hit harder, but his figure is not tragic simply because he's a man of ideals and stands up for them, it's because in some ways he's just as ruthless as those he criticizes.

A key to this interpretation is found in his marriage and relationship with Michio. For me it's the central tragedy in the film, not only because of what Kaji and Michiko end up losing because of Kaji's plight but also because of Kaji himself. He's a man who feels deeply, yet is so blinded by his mission that he helps to destroy his marriage, and Michiko to an extent, even before the end of the first film. The title of the first film, "No Greater Love," not only refers to Jn 15:13 ("Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends") and in a way to Kaji's mission to help others, but also to the love Michiko has for Kaji, a love that he will find unparalleled and lost to him.


[1] Philip Kemp, "The Human Condition: The Prisoner," retrieved 26 August 2015 from the Criterion Collection website.
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A man with a conscience....doing a job that violates his lofty principles.
MartinHafer21 March 2012
This is the first of three very long movies that are based on Jumpei Gomikawa's six-volume series. It is set during WWII and is about a Japanese man named Kaji. Kaji is a very liberal man for the times--something that COULD be very dangerous in the militaristic Japanese society. When he's called up to fight in the war, he's torn. He's basically a pacifist at heart and cannot see himself killing another. Luckily for him, his boss gives him a choice--report for military duty or go off to Japanese occupied territory to be the production head for a forced labor camp. Not surprisingly, he goes to work at the camp--and takes his new wife with him.

When he sees the camp, Kaji is angered--the soldiers brutalize the workers and have absolutely no regard for them. The camp is also rife with corruption. He insists that the beatings MUST stop and he is opposed by the staff--but he's not willing to budge and he has the authority to make it stick. Fortunately, when the workers are better few and treated well, production increases dramatically. However, when there are prison escapes, the hardliners press for a return to brutality. After all, they feel, these aren't exactly humans--just Chinese and Korean conscripts and, worse, Japanese political prisoners. What is Kaji to do? As the film progresses, to save himself he may need to forget about his high ideals. But, can he live with himself? And what about his marriage? Because of the job, he's withdrawn and miserable--and a lousy husband. I'd say more, but this would ruin the film.

Overall, an excellent film that is worth seeing. I am excited to see what happens in the second film, as at the end of the first there is a BIG twist and Kaji's world has been turned upside down in the process. My only question is could this film STILL be a bit sanitized? From what I've read about these camps, they were MUCH more brutal than even the film portrayed.
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Cosmoeticadotcom26 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The Human Condition has too many technical flaws, goes on too long, and, especially, its first 60% gets annoyingly moralistic and preachy at times (although Kaji does sink into a bit of justifiable depravity by film's end), to be considered an inarguably great film, but so much of the rest of it is assuredly great that it has to be in the argument for greatness, therefore I can term it a near-great film, even if, for many, it will seem an irredeemably depressing film; not unlike Theo Angelopoulos's The Weeping Meadow. This observation is true, but it is not a reason to avoid the film, nor art, because a work of art that depresses is not to say that it is not successful for that, if its depression spurs one on to cogitation over why this is. Also, criticism of the love that Kaji holds for his wife are all based on the assumption that the lead character is supposed to be an idealization of the average man rather than an example of the rare man, the potentially great man, who is denied his due. Therefore, the commonplace qualities of love and fidelity that a superior man holds become, in this misinterpretation, an idealized and unrealistically (capital r) Romantic flaw. But that is the flaw of the critics, not the artist.

The film's equivocal excellence is probably no better exemplified than in its portrait of the Japanese Army. On the one hand the film seems to go a bit too light in its portrayal of the Japanese mistreatment of its Chinese victims (for with every passing year it seems that the Japanese Imperial Army made the Nazis seem like rank amateurs in human depravity), yet, on the other hand, the film does a great service in its humanizing of the average Japanese soldier from inhuman automatonic supermen to flawed misfits who often criticize and mock their superiors and the war's rightness. And while it abounds in caricatures and near-caricatures, the film also does an outstanding job of getting to specific moments of intensity (however prosaically- not poetically- rendered) between characters, in what would otherwise seem a mundane interaction. This allows for the speedy introduction of characters and building of empathy with them.

The DVD, by The Criterion Collection, is one of the best releases they have had in the last couple of years. I've chided the company for skimping on audio commentaries in recent years, but this film's length, and the fact that it is spread over three disks, pretty much obviates any necessity for a commentary, and even an enthusiastic talking head like Japanese film expert Donald Richie or film critic Roger Ebert (were he healthy) would inevitably spend most of the nine plus hours on dead air. As usual, I wish all black and white films had easier to read subtitles than mere white font, but there are only a few instances of difficult to read wordings. Given that this film had an international release at a time when foreign films were routinely dubbed, it would have been great to have had an English language audio dubbed option, for likely one existed. There is an oddity in that there are Japanese subtitles on the right side of the screen for the Japanese audience, at moments characters speak Chinese. The fourth disk has all the supplements, and while it is missing an extended making of featurette, there are some good moments in interviews conducted with the film's director and star, and a short video bon mot of the film from Japanese filmmaker Masahiro Shinoda. There are some trailers and an insert essay, as well. But, this is there are DVD where the extras are really just that. Even with nothing, this film is worth seeing. It is also a very good restoration, in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, of the film compared to earlier VHS and DVD releases, many of which split the film into its three parts: No Greater Love (1959), Road To Eternity (1960), and A Soldier's Prayer (1961).

The film's cinematography, by Yoshio Miyajima, is always solid, with a few moments of adventure- such as a shot as a tank roars overhead, but it is never spectacular. The scenes shot in a studio often clash with location shots, texturally. As for the use of black and white, no one is liable to confuse this film with the masterworks of an Orson Welles nor Michelangelo Antonioni. The film's score is one of its weakest elements, too often telegraphing 'important' moments. Nakasdai's acting dominates the film, for he is in virtually ever scene, and his slow transmogrification from bleeding heart liberal who sells out to stoic killing machine (he's an excellent soldier despite his avowed humanism) who years for his wife is subtle, believable, and most importantly, lets the viewer empathize with him.

The Human Condition is one of those works of art that is not great, but has so much going on, at any moment, that it is not difficult to forgive its flaws- even those that glare, for another excellent or better moment will soon recapture your admiration. And, it's only in true epics that such largess is to be found. Excelsior!
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..Trying to catch the train of humanity
Ricc027 December 2016
"No Greater Love" is the first part of the 9 hours 47 minutes trilogy directed by Masaki Kobayashi based on the six-volume novel by Junpei Gomikawa. A captivating, haunting, and touching anti-war epic film where Kobayashi masterfully criticizes and confronts the Japanese practices and applications via WW2 through a self-righteous character who is trying to "catch the train of humanism before it's too late".

Kaji is a socialist and a pacifist with great morals. His self- righteousness is shown from the first beginning when he refuses to sleep with his girlfriend for the concern of being enlisted soon in the army and not be able to fulfill his duties towards her. He has his own theories and principles also in dealing with work environment and laborers. He gets a job offer to be a supervisor in an iron mine in a small Manchurian village. Since he opposes war, he accepts it as his only way out of conscription. He also gets to be with his girlfriend (they soon marry).

Kaji now in his new work faces moral dilemmas that prove day by day not to be easier than those he was going to face in the military. He struggles with the old, brutal, and oppressive mentalities. Things get nastier when 600 Chinese men are brought to the mine as prisoners of war.. plots, deceptions, racism, torture.. the list goes on. Many try to shake his convictions by convincing him that the theories may prove wrong when applied, and also that peace theories do not apply in war time. His answer was that either the theories are wrong or they were faultily applied. Yet, even his wife doubts his intentions for a moment.. will he surrender?

Kobayashi's humanist film is a delicate study of the human psychology during hardships and the capabilities of the man to stand still and fight for what is right. It is also a sincere revision to a difficult era in Japanese history, reacting responsibly in opening a new page for the coming generations. "It's not my fault that I'm Japanese.. yet, it's my worst crime that I am", states Kaji. What can we do to deserve this beautiful name "man", one prisoner ask him.

Kaji represents in his fight to become the man not the beast all humanity not only of course the Japanese.. every generation from the first beginning. The masterful Kobayashi contributes greatly to this epic film with extraordinary execution.. and Tatsuya Nakadai was a great choice for the leading role. A piece of art considered by many to be one of the greatest ever.
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Overly Contrived.
Warning: Spoilers
Viewed on DVD and Streaming. Restoration = ten (10) stars; cinematography = nine (9) stars; score = eight (8) stars. Director Masaki Kobayashi's two-part(complete with scored intermission), moderately-sized, propaganda epoch using coal mining in China as a backdrop. Scenes of high drama are often book ended by heavy-handed scenes that stretch credulity to the point of unintentional humor and self caricature. Four prime flavors of protagonists bounce off one another in the Director's tale: a newly-hired, mine management-team member who is a compassionate liberal; conservative mine managers/labor-enforcers; military mine guards/minders; and ethnic/semi-ethnic "Chinese." Kobayashi seems to be struggling to maximize the inclusion of events depicted in the original source material (a super-sized contemporary novel) that results in loss of dynamics and consistency especially in the second half of the movie (the latter is also too long). The Director provides a number of truly startling and indelible scenes including: half-dead/dead Chinese slave labors being disgorged/pulled from sardine-can military box cars; and the execution (by samurai-style beheading) of slaves who may (or may not) have tried to escape. Exterior scenes shot at an immense open-pit coal mine in China are spectacular (the coal mine is the real star of this film!). Kobayashi also displays many hard-to-swallow oddities starting with his film's central plot point: a conservative mining company hires a left-wing, college student (who thereby avoids military call up) to booster the management team of a brutal and labor-intensive mining operation in far off China. There are many more. Among my favorites: the absence of any freshly mined coal (just pieces of jagged light-colored "ore"); a 3,300-volt electrical fence (to prevent Chinese slaves from escaping) complete with an impressive high-power infrastructure, but no visible means to power it all; labored Chinese dialog phonetically delivered by Japanese actors (ethnic Chinese physical and voice actors seem to be among the missing); and Chinese "comfort women" depicted as seasoned pros who clearly seem to enjoy practicing their profession ("happy hookers") and are never fully booked (about 50 sex workers are supposed to be servicing 10,000 non-slave and 500 slave labors!). Acting is OK but trends toward the histrionic and hammy in the second half of the film. Cinematography (wide screen, black and white) and scene lighting are excellent. Score is very good, but tends to have too many redundant phrases in its orchestration. Subtitles can be a bit long given their rapid flash-by rates. Most signs, armband, etc. are translated. Audio distortion mars the orchestral recording for the opening credits. Restoration is as good as it gets--the film looks like it was just released! Just go with the flow in this partial rewrite of history. WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD.
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