After such a strong week two, week three began with a bit of a disadvantage. Beginning in Japan, and ending in Poland, week three crisscrossed the globe, telling an incredibly diverse group of stories along the way. A surrealist short (from the incomparable Luis Buñuel), a rockumentary, an Oscar nominee, and a chilling horror diversified my week three viewing experience, rendering it the most jarring day-to-day film campaign of my “March.” From the hammy melodrama of Misaki Kobayashi’s I Will Buy You to the psychological complexities of Jane Campion’s Sweetie, week three became an exercise in “resetting” my expectations. One of my goals for this project was to go into as many films as blindly as possible. I purposefully neglected to research any films on my list (save for the few added to alleviate the pressure of my expanding queue), challenging myself to pick up cues as to the narrative structure/cinematic style without any preconceptions or information. With the narrative subversion of I Will Buy You, and the disjointed timeline of Milcho Manchevski’s Before the Rain, week three proved to be a conjectural struggle. In order to fully appreciate these films, any prior knowledge, biases, and even my mood had to be discarded before facing the daily film. More so than any other week, my ability to discard supposition was rigorously tested. The need to quickly pick up social cues, cultural and historical context and narrative tendencies was crucial to fully understanding each of week three’s diverse range of films – strengthening my abilities to conceptualize a film’s purpose without any prior research.
Based on Junpei Gomikawa’s six-part novel of the same name, The Human Condition is director Masaki Kobayashi’s anti-war epic – profoundly capturing the spiritual heights and unspeakable depths of humanity. Split into three parts, No Greater Love, Road to Eternity, and A Soldier’s Prayer, The Human Condition runs an incredible 9 hours, 47 minutes, taking three-years to film. Endeavoring to adapt his film as closely to the books as possible, Kobayashi was said to have directed with the script in one hand and the novel in the other; often adding in overlooked sections of the book as little as one-day prior to filming. With an incredible array of mainstream Japanese actors, The Human Condition‘s exhaustive scope and sweeping narrative are presented with the gravity they command, and with the dignity to which they are entitled.
Kaji (a powerfully impressive breakout performance from Tatsuya Nakadai) is perhaps the most idealistically righteous, yet entirely human, hero in cinema (and even literary) history. Strikingly humanistic, Kaji is guided only by the love he has for his wife, Michiko (Michiyo Aratama), and his unwavering moral compass. No Greater Love finds Kaji as a young employee of a regional mining operation. Offered a labor supervisor position in China, Kaji jumps at the chance to deploy his altruistic labor plan, and to receive a draft exemption for himself. Sharing the news with his then girlfriend, Michiko, the lovers marry and “honeymoon” in the remote mining town where Kaji is to be stationed. Met with resistance from management and other labor supervisors, Kaji discovers the many hurdles of implementing any real change. While he is able to make small improvements in working conditions and production rates, Kaji is unable to deal with Japanese imperialism, or build lasting trust with his group of Chinese POW’s. Set up to fail, Kaji looses his exemption, and is drafted into the Japanese Army.