Director Masaki Kobayashi's magnum opus on the devastation of war. "The Human Condition" is a trilogy of epic films intended to show the brutalities of World War II and their effect on the participants and on Japanese soci... more »ety. Part One introduces Kaji, a pacifist who is set up by his superiors, tried for treason and drafted into the army.« less
The FilmNotes entry from the Pacific Film Archive:
Ern Malley | Madison, WI | 05/26/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It is rare when an episode of national history can be interpreted without the burden of illusions, both obsolete and nostalgic. And this is perhaps one of the great strengths of Masaki Kobayashi's The Human Condition, a nine-hour epic about Japan's occupation of China during the Second World War. The trilogy begins with an attack on the inhuman practices within the Japanese Army and ends with a bitter denunciation of Stalinism by the would-be-socialist hero, Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai), a Japanese soldier who has confronted the horrid face of war and found it unyielding. In grand Dostoyevskian flourishes, Kobayashi suggests the impossibility of an individual altering the ethical standards of a social system. Kaji, driven by an idealized vision of Japan redeemed by social reform, tries to overcome injustice and exploitation during a military conquest based solely on these principles. Brutalized by the very country he defends, Kaji refuses to desert, for desertion implies relinquishing responsibility for his own homeland. Kaji's heroism lies in this exacting refusal to abandon Japan or his humanity. Part One finds Kaji working as a supervisor in a forced labor camp in southern Manchuria where he and his wife (Michiyo Aratama) attempt to better the dreadful lot of the enslaved Chinese workers. Kaji is accused of dissent, tortured, then inducted into the army. In Part Two, Kaji is equally appalled by the horrendous treatment afforded recruits. Given the rank of officer, he tries to install more humane procedures but only succeeds in attracting the ire of his fellow officers. By Part Three, the Japanese army is being routed by superior Russian troops. Fleeing to the south, Kaji is captured by the Soviet army and imprisoned. Here, he learns the bitter truth of the Red Army as liberators. Kobayashi's The Human Condition can be viewed as a single aesthetic entity, complete in its sweep of historical events and visual stylizations. The gargantuan undertaking to dramatize the wilful ironies of the Manchurian campaign never compromises Kobayashi's ability to define the human scale of injustice. Standing-in for the director, Kaji says, "Minor facts ignored by history can be fatal to the individual." It is Masaki Kobayashi's recognition of "minor facts" that joins the poetic to the journalistic in a scathing epic about the cruelties of war."
ONE OF THE ALL-TIME CLASSIC EPICS NOW ON DVD!
Ern Malley | 06/27/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is Part One of one of the greatest films of Japanese cinema and certainly one of the best I've ever seen.I saw all three parts of Kobayashi's Human Condition Trilogy during an all night marathon of a worn 16mm print while I was in college seven years ago. I've been waiting for a proper video version ever since. The VHS version was in the crummy EP mode, because of the enormous length of each part, and not priced to sell through. Masaki Kobayashi's work speaks for itself, but I recommend that people refer to his other films listed at Amazon and IMDB. The trilogy contains some of the greatest imagery I have ever seen. It is a grueling war story that doesn't hold back, very much in the league of later war/atrocity films like The Killing Fields and Schindler's List. Although the whole trilogy is amazing in length (the college marathon ran 10 hours with intermissions!) it is very compelling and never drags. It is the story of idealism fighting against the darkness of human barbarism in World War II. If you can handle it, this is well worth getting. The DVD is fully letterboxed to the proper aspect ratio, with subtitles placed fully within the lower black bar. I can't wait for my copies of Parts Two and Three."
Part 1 of one of the greatest anti-war films
H. Richards | Sydney, Australia | 08/19/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The acting is inspiring, the script gut-wrenchingly convincing and the cinematography on a par with that of other Japanese classics. This three-part series tells it like it was without cliches and the impact is restrained enough to last for three hours in each episode. Kaji, an idealistic Japanese man with socialist inclinations is embroiled in the fascist culture of WWII Japan. His struggle as a conscientious objector has universal overtones: the conflicts between mass mania and personal integrity, between nationalistic tribalism and humanistic sensitivity, between the pack mentality of bullying and the vulnerability of someone who stands up for what is right."
A nearly Perfect movie about the Condition of being Human...
S. Koropeckyj | The Bright Side of the Moon | 09/25/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie is the first from a 10 hour trilogy, detailing Kaji's (a Japanese man) moral and physical passage, from being a warden of sorts, to the front lines, and finally to a Russian prison camp. Through these three movies, we get a sense of Kaji, as a truly beatiful soul, always torn between two equally unappealing destinations: trapped in a perpetual catch 22. No Greater Love shows him reluctantly aiding the Japanese war machine, while simaltaneously refusing to take part in it.
Kaji does not want to go to the front lines. He is about to be married to a beautiful woman, he has a great job, and he is against the idea of war as a general principle. Fortunately, his boss at the steel company offers him a comprimise: he doesn't need to go to the front lines if he relocates to a Manchurian iron mine and serves as the labor coordinator...
It sounds like a dream come true for Kaji; he can now ensure that workers' rights are not being violated and gets to spend time with his new wife. But then, a Japanese army general drops off 600 Chinese prisoners at the mine. Kaji does not want to take them and act as their oppressor, but he has little choice. He tries to gain the trust of the prisoners but because he is Japanese, this is a nearly impossible task. When the prisoners start escaping from within the electrocuted barbed wire, both Kaji's job and life is put on the line.
So, why is this 3 and a half hour movie the masterpiece that it is? Apart from being visually stunning in remarkably well shot black and white, the movie throws the most clean soul into a cesspool of dirt... everything in the movie is dirty: the landscape is constantly obscured by sand (dust) storms, the Chinese workers who help the Japanese are scumbags, and the Japanese authorities are tyrants. Kaji is forced to stand against attack from all sides, from both his friends and from his enemies.
But, alas, he is only human. He can only do so much to protect the well-being of the prisoners, to raise the production quotas, to take care of his lonely and bored, yet still loving, wife. When something bad happens at the mine he is blamed by both the prisoners and the authorities: called a Japanese tyrant by the prisoners and a sympathizer by the authorities. He tries to balance, but he cannot stretch himself that far. When some of the prisoners are executed, he manages to save the lives of some of them, but gets blamed for the loss of life of the others.
But, nobody else does anything to help. Even those that admire him are working against him. He is attacked for not doing enough, when he did more than everyone else. As a beautiful soul he is the perfect scapegoat, and he suffers for his purity.
Though the movie is long, it was never boring. Each scene was substantial and perfectly set up the next scene and the one after that. Every scene was suspensful as well as heartfelt and combined to create a very good viewing experience, a true connection and understanding of the main character. There was very little wrong with this movie: watch it, experience it."
A True Masterpiece
S. Koropeckyj | 12/01/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a heart wrenching story of one man's effort to remain true to himself and his beliefs even in the face of adversities.Masaki Kobayashi was promised by his superiors that he would not be drafted for war and this pleased him well as he is about to marry the love of his life. Instead he was instructed to take up a position in the mines where he found himself in charge of chineses prisoners. However this posed a problem since this was taking place in Japan in the World war 2 era. However Masaki believes in treating human life with respect even if they were prisoners working in mines. In an attempt to do this he angered his peers and superiors who then plotted ways to get rid of him. Now Masaki found that in trying to please all he ended up pleasing none including his wife. He was going against the grain and found himself up against the wall. How could he remain true to his beliefs and values? Get this movie and find out."