Kobayashi, 206m, 1959
Manchuria, the North Eastern part of China, was occupied by Japan in the thirties. The military machine ruthlessly exploited the resources as well as the labor. The present film is set in the closing years of the war. It is a long, lavish and for the most absorbing film which serves as a good history lesson. As a human drama it is bland.
Kaji, a young manager with his new bride takes over as a labor supervisor in an iron mine. With the ongoing war and the requirements of steel the Chinese are brutally driven to give increased production. Kaji is put in charge of a contingent of special labor comprising prisoners of war. His humanism comes into head-on clash with the methods of the management, which works under the surveillance of the military.
Kaji's character is unconvincing because the idealism is too undiluted and too much on the surface. It has no complexity like, say, Schindler, to make him interesting and convincing. His flaw is that he has too few flaws, making him an unlikely candidate even for a saint. The face is flat and expressionless, the mouth wide upon, eyes blank and staring into space, and of course he is given no chance to smile. The villains are wittier and more interesting. The film in it's sentimentality, overacting and melodrama has tinges of Bollywood of the black and white era.
The film is redeemed by it's accurate and well encapsulated historical information, since the director himself was in Manchuria during the period described. It is a chronicle of his own experience but he is not very successful in transmuting it into a truly great or universal film. I am not particularly inclined to continue with the remaining two parts of this trilogy having a combined duration of almost ten hours. I must add it has been widely acclaimed, even as the best film of all time.