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The Human Condition (The Criterion Collection)

4.8 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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The Criterion Collection
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Editorial Reviews

First of a trilogy of films. During the Second World War, a Japanese conscientious objector named Kaji works as a supervisor in a Manchurian prison camp. He hopes to avoid duty as a soldier, but he also hopes to be helpful to the welfare of his prisoners. An escape attempt by Chinese prisoners results in Kaji's arrest for collusion. He faces the possibility of transferral to combat--or worse.

Special Features

New, restored high-definition digital transfer
Excerpt from a rare Directors Guild of Japan video interview with director Masaki Kobayashi, conducted by filmmaker Masahiro Shinoda (Double Suicide)
New video interview with actor Tatsuya Nakadai
Video appreciation of Kobayashi and The Human Condition featuring Shinoda
Japanese theatrical trailers
New and improved English subtitle translation
A booklet featuring an essay by critic Philip Kemp

Product Details

  • Actors: Tatsuya Nakadai, Michiyo Aratama, Keiji Sada, Shinji Nanbara, Akitake Kôno
  • Directors: Masaki Kobayashi
  • Producers: Shigeru Wakatsuki
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Black & White, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Japanese
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 4
  • Rated:
    NR
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: September 8, 2009
  • Run Time: 574 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0026VBOJM
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,642 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Human Condition (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Woopak VINE VOICE on September 17, 2009
Format: DVD
Masaki Kobayashi, the acclaimed director of Japanese classics such as "HARA-KIRI" and "Samurai Rebellion" has always made a powerful stance against established authority. He made a scathing indictment of the "Code of Bushido" and criticized the way samurai clans have treated its retainers and their families. Kobayashi's "THE HUMAN CONDITION" is his fearless indictment of the war itself that criticizes established authority. Based on the novel by Jumpei Gomikawa, this film trilogy is arguably Kobayashi's finest films, its strong existential themes, the manner of which it exposes the aspects of good and evil, and the thin line between morality and immorality is truly masterful. The trilogy focuses on the exploits of Kaji during World War II. Kaji's development as a man, as a husband, as a soldier, and later as a prisoner of war is brought to exposition by Masaki Kobayashi.

Disc One: "No Greater Love" (1959)
Kaji (Tatasuya Nakadai) is a young man who is a pacifist and a socialist. He marries his sweetheart Michiko (Michiyo Aratama) despite the uncertainties in the future. Kaji agrees to work as a mining supervisor in an iron and ore mining site in Japanese-occupied Manchuria to avoid getting drafted to fight a war he doesn't believe in. Kaji becomes partly successful in reforming the working conditions in the mining site, although his ideas are often contested by his superiors. Things become more complicated when Chinese prisoners of war are forced upon the site by the Kempeitai (military police) to use as laborers. Kaji tries but fails to reconcile his humanistic theories with the realities of forced slave labor under Japan's Imperial system.
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How should an individual respond to deep-set social injustices - ones that are built into the structure of the country's national morality. This is the core of Kaji's story (performed by the brilliant Tatsuya Nakadai). This epic trilogy is a biography of a man, a dissenter, a nation. During the critical years 1930's to 1940's, Japanese aggression was founded on radical nationalism, a policy which expected everything in its path to bend or break. The director films the cruelty of Japanese and Russian authority with unflinching honesty. As is always true of this director...he is an absolute master of cinematography in the brilliant way we think Akira Kurusowa is a master of the same art. As an example, after one of the Chinese slave laborers is brutally beaten to death, the group of laborers complain to Kaji - accusing him of being just like the other insensitive Japanese. The crowd of prisoners and Kaji are separated by an electric barbed wire. Then suddenly - through the barbed wire - the prisoners view 30 comfort women approaching to service them sexually...almost as a mirage...and the complaint against Kaji drips away. It is a deeply powerful image - a form of cinema poetry and a form of cinema realism.

In the first installment of this extraordinary trilogy, Kaji is sent to be an overseer of a Japanese slave labor camp in Manchuria. At this time, the Japanese are using Chinese men or unlucky POW's for mining operations under inhuman, horrific conditions. Appalled by the viciousness, Kaji proposes reforms and basic human rights for the prisoners...but in doing so he is considered an obstacle to the Japanese War effort and so the idealist is next sent into the military.
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Format: DVD
The British film critic David Shipman described The Human Condition - Masaki Kobayashi's 9.5 hour epic - as "unquestionably the greatest film ever made." I raise that straight up, because any film calling itself `The Human Condition' holds promise of great profundity; and praise as singular as Shipman's indicates it may have fulfilled that promise. So does it? I will concentrate on that question, but before I do, let me deal with some formalities first...

The 9.5 hours do not run unbroken. Whatever its merit, I think we can be thankful for that. Kobayashi followed the structure of Junpei Gomikawa's mammoth novel and divided the film into three separate parts - the first of which is No Greater Love, a title taken from Christ's description of unconditional selflessness, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

The film was made in 1959; it is black and white; and while the acting is slightly mannered, it is not too distracting. Set against the backdrop of Japan in the years surrounding WWII, it follows Kaji, a young idealist, as his idealism is tested, and worn away by the brutal realities of life.

The plot runs something like this: Kaji is at first given dispensation from the war, so that he can take up the role of mine supervisor. It so happens that the mine uses Chinese prisoners for its labour, and Kaji finds himself sympathising with them. Kaji quickly learns though, that his ideals are not shared - indeed he finds himself hated by all parties - his superiors, his workmates, and even the prisoners, who see him as smug and self-serving.

There is then an uprising by the prisoners and suspicion is subsequently directed against Kaji.
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