The Human Condition I: No Greater Love
(Ningen no joken)
Amazingly powerful in its emotional sweep and the depth of its historical insight. . . . Kobayashi’s monumental film can clarify and enrich your understanding of what it is to be alive.A. O. Scott, New York Times
Tatsuya Nakadai, Michiyo Aratama, Ineko Arima, So Yamamura,
It is rare when an episode of national history can be interpreted without the burden of illusions, both obsolete and nostalgic. This is 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 inhuman practices in the Japanese army and ends with a bitter denunciation of Stalinism by the would-be-socialist hero, Kaji (the great Tatsuya Nakadai), a Japanese soldier who has confronted the reality 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. Standing in for the director, Kaji says, “Minor facts ignored by history can be fatal to the individual.” It is Kobayashi’s recognition of “minor facts” that joins the poetic to the journalistic in a scathing epic about the cruelties of war.
This first part of the trilogy finds Kaji working as a supervisor in a forced labor camp in southern Manchuria, where he and his wife attempt to better the lot of the enslaved Chinese workers. Kaji is accused of dissent, tortured, then inducted into the army.