Sunday, October 25, 2009

masaki kobayashi's the human condition: reissue of the year

over the years, ive made no secret of my opinions on gritty war films, especially japanese ones. kurosawa is one of my favorite directors of all time and i find ran, kagemusha, and seven samurai to be masterpieces. i love kon ichikawa's fires on the plain and am a sucker for ozu's sentimental tales of japanese post war insecurity.

when i initially heard about THE HUMAN CONDITION, a 9 1/2 hr 6 part epic from masaki kobayashi (director of the outstanding SEPPUKU), i was intrigued but daunted by the undertaking of yet another epic film. but since this one starred tatsuya nakadai, i rolled up my sleeves, ordered a disc a week and dove in.

since i became an extreme cinephile, i can tell whether or not im going to fall head over heels in love with a movie in the first 20 minutes or so. and with this one, i was entranced in the first few minutes. ever since i met kaji, the main character (played by nakadai), i knew that i was going to enjoy spending 10 hours with him.

kaji is a pacifist, a socialist, and incredibly naive. he seems himself as the voice of reason and humanity in an insane time. he is madly in love with his wife, michiko but not enough to go back on his ideals. throughout the ten hours, we follow kaji through being the boss in a chinese labor camp to being sent to the front of the war for his ideals and finally, as a POW in a russian war camp. in each step of his harrowing struggles, we see the pain and frustration of war and what it does to a human being. each part of the film, he has to endure some crisis of faith and conscious.

while the things kaji is doing are awful, it is all in the name to return to michiko and to find a good life for the both of them. despite all the killing and struggle to survive, never does kaji waver from his central core of beliefs. what is painful is watching him see that humanity isnt as good as he thought. throughout the first 3 parts of the series, kaji believed in the communist philosophy and that his new life was meant to be in russia with people who were more civilized and fair. but like the japanese and chinese, the russians too were brutal and violent. so he continues to search and make his way back to michiko despite all these forces against him.

he doesnt make it but the final scene of him lying dead in a desolate plane is so heartbreaking and beautiful (in a sad and gut wrenching way)

the execution of the above is painful to watch and left me feeling incredibly empty inside. i was so moved by the final scenes and the love in kaji's heart. i didnt cry. i couldnt. i just felt cold and empty. i needed to cuddle a cat but there werent any cats so i watched cartoons.

however, what the movie taught is that love can survive in the hardest and lonliest places. at the same time, since kaji never betrayed his own ability, one cant help wonder if things would have been easier for him. but then again, i guess that this isnt the point of the movie. the point is to embrace the struggle of humanity.

if you cant tell, i was completely floored by this movie. im not sure how its been out of the mainstream for so long but THE HUMAN CONDITION needs to return to the collective conscious of the movie-going public. or at least be fawned upon by critics and filmies alike (which looks like its happening!) this is definitely my favorite DVD watch of 2009 and among my favorite films of all time. absolutely amazing.

i need to go cuddle a cat.