Monday, July 5, 2010

The Human Condition-II & III (1960)

Kobayashi (1916-96), 1959-61, 3hrs+3 1/2 hours

The trilogy unfolds furthur as a sprawling historical and geographical drama wound around the life of the naive and idealistic hero Kaji. In it's vast canvas it resembles Dr Zhivago and Gone with the Wind. The film was made around 1960 and was a box-office success in Japan because it must have reflected the prevalent anti-war sentiments. It must have been a mirror for that country with Kaji representing the views with which a large fraction of Japanese would have found easy to identify--cathartic viewing, it's timeliness justifying it's length.

Kaji with his pro-labor views is found too troublesome as a civilian officer in the mines and  is conscripted. Part 3 (each of the films is divided into two parts so the first part of the second film is part 3 in the trilogy) is the training period, and we have a possibly caricaturised picture of the internal brutality in the imperial forces where slapping and belaboring seems an established routine. (The mutual slapping at times becomes a virtual Punch and Judy show.) Kaji with his anachronistic humanistic ideas stands out like a sore thumb.

The training is over in due course and he is despatched to the Manchurian border. We get a clear picture of the complex triangular military situation with the Chinese Reds, the Soviets and the  weakening Japanese pitted against each other. With rumblings from the West about the defeat of the fascists and Nazi's the morale of the Japanese is sinking and finally it is every man for himself and Kaji sets out on a long trek through the the forests and tundra towards his wife.

The English title of the film is a misnomer since the original has the connotation of how hard it is to be human. It is hard at any time to be a decent human being in a corrupt environment, and the protagonists effort is somewhat unconvincing and quixotic and foredoomed for disillusionment, and we are left to conclude that he is more a prototype of views prevailing after the war contrasted to the wartime jingoism, than a creature of flesh and blood. For a 1960 film it is prescient in it's portrayal of the in-humanism inherent in the Marxist ideology.

For whatever flaws it may have, it's movie well worth the effort of watching, for the grandeur of it's universal sweep and for it's portrayal of an era and a territory most of us are unfamiliar with.

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