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

Masaki Kobayashi Marathon Part II of V

Wait a minute, nobody told me that this was just the +500 page rough draft to Full Metal Jacket

Damn, this Kaji dude won’t give up! The army was built to keep men cold-blooded, no doubt, and after being chosen to join active duty in the war, Kaji discovers a new kind of moral hell opposed to the one he had confronted earlier. After a series of unfortunate events occur, Kaji begins waving his humanistic philosophies onto the laws of soldier training, causing, once again, conflict among men of strict codes. The second chapter in Masaki Kobayashi’s Human Condition series isn’t as diligent in sequencing, especially with its crowded plot, nor are the horrors as imposing as its masterful predecessor. Many of the characterizations here don’t feel too calculated either for how many new faces this film wants us to sympathize with and occasionally the themes here can be repetitive for better or worse; No Greater Love had nailed down these regions far better. 

It’s a little grieving that not until the last act of this sequel does Kaji, alas, train a group of soldiers with the kind of solicitude he had sought for his prisoners in the first film. Yet, we never get to see the results of his long awaited craft with telling outcomes, ones that could give concepts brought up in its predecessor with some closure. I suppose, maybe that’s the point though, that in times where sudden death is a high variable and most have their minds set on sadism, kindness can become pointless when the very definition of war contradicts such ideas. There isn’t the space for it, and the mood of bloodshed just doesn’t deserve the respect of virtue because it could never understand it. 

However, that’s not to say that that’s the only important insight which this sequel has to offer; it’s quite pivotal actually to the psyche of Kaji, as it pilots him into a new kind of failure we’re bound to see himself sink deeper with. Whether it be the film’s constant reoccurring themes on leaders who abuse the power of their rank or the general inceptions of self-harm and killing during a violent era, it becomes evident that despite Kaji’s inklings to set things right, these goals seem impossible as long as isolation between people continues. The Human Condition II: Road to Eternity decides not to focus on the war between foreign enemies, but the war between those ironically on the same side. Well, until that pretty awesome battle scene comes around near the end of the movie. Go teamwork?

Verdict: B+

Deconstructing Traditions (Masaki Kobayashi Ranked)

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

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