December 15, 1959 [The Human Condition I]

Masaki Kobayashi's The Human Condition relentlessly demands that its socialist/humanitarian hero, Kaji, ask his conscience how it can go on living during wartime--in China, where his fellow Japanese run a slave-labor mine--no, not "his fellow Japanese": Kaji himself, the good man pretending he is there to ensure that "humanity" is not merely a generic term but a quality, like mercy, like compassion, that droppeth slow--but in his hands steady--or so he hopes.

But this is a lie. He does not want to fight, and so is exempted from military service if he agrees to oversee the mine--but of course the military follows him, their need for raw materials trumping his weak hand--and kindness is weakness here: Just look at the actor Tatsuya Nakadai open Kaji's eyes always round in shock or fear, with mouth set in grim and bitter scorn, his best efforts nothing more than black grease slathered on the war machine--more like pinball, the game simple: How close can he get to his ideals without defeat?

Not at all, it turns out. As this installment of a multi-part film ends, we know Kaji's real job is to watch himself--along with his wife, loyal to him and thus also doomed--drawn under with the other torturers, enslavers, bullies. And to his credit, his eyes stay wide open--incredulous, yes, but taking it all in, beginning to learn all about that human condition he suffers from.


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