Quick-Thoughts: Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition I (1959)

Masaki Kobayashi Marathon Part I of V

Welp, I guess I chose pain today.

Trying to be a humanist during wartime just seems outright farcical to the common bystander. Kaji believes that there can be a caring approach to forced labor, one that could logistically benefit all oppositions of the forefront, business-wise and morally. Yet, when he’s sent to an internment camp for Chinese prisoners of the war, his theories seem to be far from simple and within an ace of convolution. Discipline is a crude way of encouraging productivity, but it has proven itself to be beneficial to the Japanese mining camps supposedly, so when Kaji begins implementing humanism to the equation of who the Japanese see as “expendable” prison workers, it backfires. 

But that’s the classic war dilemma: is the success of your own country worth the suffering of others? Does middling with both morality and practicality to fill the hole in “sin” cause more issues than less? Is it better off to let inhumane ideas stay simple than for them to be challenged with reason, since experimentation can cause further damage even if it’s to eventually reach a more favorable, permanent point? The war appears to be almost over so is there enough time for change to even matter? Well, it seems like that’s up to Kaji and the ones who follow or resist him to decide.

The Human Condition I: No Greater Love offers a disturbing, vivid, and grounded glimpse at prison agonization, torture, rebellion, and sacrifice during World War II in Japan. Holding no restraints to censorship, this epic concentrates on a man with a romanticized thirst for heroism yet a long journey of awakening development till actually getting there… and just by a bare amount; fighting for the enemy guarantees consequences, ones that the film insists affects love, lives, and the truth of the individual. One’s beliefs never truly seem to be authentic until they’re finally used to make the vastest of decisions, decisions that involve the livelihood of thousands of other people.

Verdict: A+

Deconstructing Traditions (Masaki Kobayashi Ranked), My Favorite Movies of All-Time

“The Human Condition I“ is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

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