Part three of a trilogy. After the Japanese defeat to the Russians in the last episode, Kaji, the Japanese soldier and humanistic protagonist, leads the last remaining men through Manchuria. Intent on returning to his dear wife and his old life, Kaji faces great odds in a variety of different harrowing circumstances as he and his fellow men sneak behind enemy lines. Ultimately, he finds himself in the exact opposite position he held in the first episode: Then a labor manager, Kaji is now a prisoner of war, forced to work for the Russians, who do not seem to hold to the Communist ideals in which Kaji himself had put his faith.Written by
Kobayashi's masterpiece a great ensemble piece as well as vehicle for Tatsuya Nakadai
It's hard to add anything to what others have written, only that Masaki Kobayashi's epic trilogy 'The Human Condition' is quite a marathon at nearly 10 hours, so you'd be well advised to pace yourself. I found it worth pausing anyway, just to reflect on all the things I'd seen in chief protagonist Private Kaji's harrowing journey. The film never shies away from difficult moments and showing the terrible effects of wartime. I don't remember many parts where the character played by Tatsuya Nakadai isn't either in shot or watching events as they unfold uncomfortably from his point of view. This is very much a painful journey into self as well as a physical happening, as the private faces insurmountable odds and conflicts to his humanitarian beliefs.
What impressed me most about 'The Human Condition' was the quality of the acting and film-making throughout, Kobayashi must have had absolute commitment from everyone involved as he tried to faithfully re-enact the events of Junpei Gumikawa's great novel. For me, the director's's work here is the ultimate 'slowburn', events unfolding at their own pace, steadily and powerfully!
Any highlighting of parts is bound to feel personal, possibly arbitrary, but I did find Part II 'Road to Eternity' rather dull and disengaging as Kaji works through problems related to the barracks where he's stationed. Part III 'The Soldier's Prayer' on the other hand opens the story up as the soldier flees the warzone in Manchuria with remnants of the Japanese Kwantung army he fought alongside. It's the classic odyssey tale as Kaji aims to get home to find his wife and get his old life back. He naturally falls into the leadership role to help his fellow deserters survive, and they face many adventures and ordeals on the war-strewn way. The much wider ensemble cast of characters lend the story gravitas and interest (harking back to Part I 'No Greater Love' when Kaji worked as a labour camp supervisor amongst the enslaved Chinese). We ponder the human condition now with a much wider viewpoint as it unravels in the fallout of war: famine, POW's, refugees, hardship, chaos, cruelty and ultimately great disillusionment ...
The strains of human existence are there for all to see in Kobayashi's powerful critique of war, really no winners in this epic struggle ... the ending becomes inevitable!
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