THE HUMAN CONDITION I: NO GREATER LOVE - 1959 ***** 206 mins.
THE HUMAN CONDITION II: ROAD TO ETERNITY - 1959 ***** 178 mins.
THE HUMAN CONDITION III: A SOLDIER'S PRAYER - 1961 ***** 190 mins.
To write three separate reviews for Masaki Kobayashi's humanist epic The Human Condition would be a bit foolish, in my opinion. While the three films are, indeed, three separate entities, and can be enjoyed as such, they are really one continuing story, the tragic story of one man who believes in the non-existent kindness of the human spirit. Rarely has a film ever spoken to me on such a deeply personal level, and never has a film of this length (just over nine and a half hours) spoken to me like this one did.
In the first film, we are introduced to the characters of Kaji and Michiko, two young people in love, whose love is threatened by the war raging all around them. When Kaji is offered a job where exemption from military service can be granted, he takes it, and the two lovers marry. Through his job as a labor camp supervisor, his every move is tested by the corrupt leaders all around him. He wants to do well by the workers, but the rules of government and society contradict his every action.
In the second film, Kaji has been forced into military service. While in training, he is confronted with more of the same disrespect and misunderstandings by his peers and superiors. As his faith in humanity diminishes, his love for his wife becomes stronger, and after a surprise visit from her, she becomes his top priority, vowing to return home to her.
Kaji and a couple of other men are all that is left from the brutal battle that closed the second film. The third film plays as a kind of Heart of Darkness odyssey as the men encounter various groups of people and occurrences, ending up in a Russian POW camp. There, Kaji's desire to return home to his wife, at any cost, is tested to the fullest.
There are many times in my personal and professional life where I feel like Kaji, a man with good intentions who never seems to be able to actually do anything that might actually work to the greater good because the powers that be are too blind and stubborn to do anything other than what their broken theories have told them all their lives. The world around us is just full of such stupidity and complete disregard to basic human goodwill, and those of us who try to do what's right are always the ones who are bludgeoned the hardest. I'm just glad that I have a Michiko by my side, who loves me regardless of what happens all around us. We all need a Michiko to remind us that in this bleak world of darkness, there is always one person who cares, needs us, and provides us with a reason to keep fighting in the face of all adversity.
Original theatrical aspect ratio: 2.35:1 (Shochiku Grandscope)
Not Rated; contains strong violence, language, and sexuality.
Based on the Novel by
Zenzo Matsuyama and Masaki Kobayashi