Humanism as a way of life, but not in this life.

Kaji is japanese, and he’s not really proud of it, specially now with the Second World War. Kaji is a humanist, but even if he enforces the autorities to improove the situation of the workers at his commanding possition, they won’t do it. Kaji has a wife, but with time they will begin to feel distant. Kaji hates war, but he’s obliged to take decissions for the good of his country generals and officials, as if he were a mere soldier. Kaji avoids war, but encounters it when he works at a mine, when the workers are chinese war prisoners, with whom he has to talk and convince that he’s a man they can trust. Kaji trusts a lot in the man around him, but they betray him at every step he makes, every decission he takes gets backlashed, he finally gets some kind of love-hate relationship with those who he tried to protect and trust, they admire what he has made, but they criticise him for not doing it before. Kaji ends in this film as a man needing the compassion of his loved ones, but he doesn’t receive it, except from his wife; so as we watch him we feel the opression and the need of compassion, and we end up giving it to him. The kind of movies that make you feel this way for fictional characters are rare, specially on this level of thought and feeling.

The wife, the only support for Kaji, alos begins to fall apart.

The wife, Kaji's only support, also begins to fall apart.

Masaki Kobayashi in this first entry of the Human Condition Trilogy gets it right. Here he can beautifully draw the character of Kaji, the central figure in the three movies, as well as the precepts of Humanism, in which he believes in. He manages to recreate the atmosphere of hate-distrust between chinese and japanese, as well as the sense of an epoch really well. It also manages to describe and characterize a lot of characters, distinguishing among them, a difficult task specially when we talk about asian films, where everyone tend to look the same in the eyes of the western audience. It slips its message without beign disruptive with the natural narrative of the film, is one of those whose message may seem implicit in one of the characters (Kaji and his hate towards war), but its concept seems battled so well all along the film that one may doubt, specially when treason takes place, but it finally wins in such a subtle and depressing way that one feels convinced, the movie is amazing in that kind of discovery.

Does betrayal deserve this punishment?

As I said, this is the first entry in the Masaki Kobayashi’s trilogy based on the book of the same name by Jumpei Gomikawa. Its second installment will be reviewed in a short time. The struggle for the achievement of humanity is harsh, and this movie proves it, let’s see if the rest of the installments are as powerful as this one. It has been recently released as a Criterion Collection 4 DVD set, it contains the three movies and a disc of special features.

On this page, we can hear two fragments of the movie’s soundtrack, another of his powerful moments in this movie.

The trailer of the movie is embeded down:

The movie, in 19 parts is on youtube, embeded down is the first part:

#3 in the Doubling the Canon list.