Ningen no jôken (1961)
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- The Human Condition III: A Soldier's Prayer
- 190 min.
Drama, War, History
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A great man was once asked "What can change the nature of a man?". Now, that may
seem overly ambitious for a mere feature to explore such a question, but the central question of this
behemoth of a film might as well be "What is the nature of a man?".
Few movies actually feel like a fucking journey, and I have to say that this one was the best joruney
I have ever experienced on film. 10 hour run time, Tatsuya Nakadai, 1940's Manchuria. It certainly had my interest, and after watching a great deal of Japanese cinema, I decided to pearl-harbor this bad boy, a film that some of the even most enlightened "critics" avoid.
I knew this movie was going to push all the philosophical buttons, but never in my wildest dreams did I expect it to be this bleak and full of despair.
It is magnificent. Almost every scene is full of thought and subtext, and the movie pumps out more thought-provoking dialogue than Spike Lee pumps out bad movies.
It raises a lot of great questions on the titular human condition. What is one's place in the world? Are people victims of their surroudnings? Is the road to hell paved with good intentions? How much can a man endure? And the list goes on. Yet it never feels pretentious because the things portrayed are true to the historical setting and the protagonist.
And all this delicious dialogue and exposition is matched with really beautiful scenery and outstanding camera-work.
This piece can feel a little exhausting at times, I too did feel it at one point, but I was always interested to see what happened next to the protagonist of the journey, Kaji. Now Kaji is an interesting fellow. A japanese pacifist who always sees the good in people and expects the best from them. He is ridiculously idealistic and his character presents us with many wonderful dilemmas and discussions on life and all things it encompasses.
The character arc has to be the best I've seen and Tatsuya Nakadai delivers absolutely groundbreaking role. For me, to grow attached to a character is very rare and it's amazing how I hoped the best for Kaji, despite some of the stupid decisions he made.
The only thing that bothered me slightly was the portrayal of his relationship to his wife, while it was always a very small part of the big picture, but the cheesy soundtrack on the background on some scenes felt really off. But it was really great to see Kaji still trying to reach his wife in the third part, even though the fate of his wife was laid out in front of him.
In conclusion, Kaji has to be the most fully realised character in the history of cinema.
I don't think the movie has any real weaknesses. Except the absolutely ridiculous PPSH's the russians carry. WTF? Lend-leased Shermans I can deal with, but this?
As I said, it can feel a bit exhausting but like good stories, it rewards you if you are patient and give it time. I think more directors should have the balls to do something as long and grand as this, and give a subject matter the scope it deserves. I had to sleep on this for a while before writing something about it because in my opinion this movie really gets better once you have reflected on it. Out of all the great scenes this film has to offer, from the exectuion scene to the "trial" scene, the ending still has to be the most powerful. It is one of the best endings
ever and absolutely impressive. The ending is a testament to the futility of everything, and only after the ending I got the whole picture of humanity Kobayashi tries to tell us about. Isn't it just wonderful how beliefs and ideologies crumble under extraordinary circumstances?
While trilogies like LOTR are probably better in terms of pure entertainment, I think I found my favorite trilógie. It is everything I ever wanted from such a colossal undertaking and then some. Without a doubt one of the greatest journeys of our time.
It can't be helped....
Those last 15 minutes after a bleakest 9-1/2-hour-vision of war may belong to the most devastating moments in the history of cinema.
Brilliant ending for the trilogy, maybe the best of all! This whole trilogy seems to be a treasure still to be discovered.. Even by specialized critics!
to see which of your friends have seen this movie!
In 7 official lists
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This movie ranks #3 in iCheckMovies - Most Favorite
This movie ranks #12 in Doubling the Canon
This movie ranks #66 in Kinema Junpo Top Japanese Films
This movie ranks #119 in Asian Cinema: A Field Guide
This movie ranks #225 in FOK! top 250
This movie ranks #281 in The British Film Institute: 360 Classics
This movie ranks #527 in The Criterion Collection