February 6, 1961 [The Human Condition II]

Masaki Kobayashi's epic The Human Condition continues so that Kaji can finally admit what keeps mankind alive: "bestial acts," as Weill and Brecht have already told us; but those like Kaji need reminding, the sensitive ones who believe that force is justifiable only in resistance to tyranny.

But what fun is that? The Human Condition's military men are rabidly joyful--out-Jap-ing their Hollywood counterparts during the war, when we preferred our Yellow Peril buck-toothed and snarling, slitted eyes goggling behind thick lenses, faces shining with oily sweat. Kobayashi's soldiers seem even more grotesquely evil as they whip and beat their Chinese slaves--and eventually execute them, chopping at their heads like efficient woodsmen, businesslike--but able to take an expert's pride and more than a little pleasure in their handiwork.

They make their way to Kaji, hoist him up like a piƱata, and beat at him, children eager for a sweet. And when they've had enough they send him home--but not before revoking his non-combatant status. He hurries as well as he can back to his wife, over the lunar wasteland of the mine, just to kiss her and tell her he's going to become a soldier after all, while the Chinese woman catches up with them, hurls rocks, screams, "Japanese devils!" over and over. And that is what they have become, simply because they're alive, kept that way by those bestial acts that hound them like the Chinese prostitute, who knows a devil when she sees one, and continues the beating.


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