The Human Condition | Chicago Reader

The Human Condition

Released in three parts between 1959 and 1961, Masaki Kobayashi's beautiful, harrowing World War II epic runs nearly ten hours, yet its tragic arc is confined to the conscience of one man: a young idealist (Tatsuya Nakadai) who gets drawn into the Japanese occupation of southern Manchuria and whose humanity is slowly but relentlessly ground out of him. The hero tries to escape the draft by accepting a managerial position at a forced labor camp, but his defense of the abused prisoners eventually gets him sent to the front lines as a soldier, and as a prisoner of war he's subjected to the same sort of cruelty he tried so hard to stop earlier. Though the script was adapted from a series of novels, director Masaki Kobayashi (Kwaidan) was also personally invested in the story; drafted into the Imperial Army in 1942, he served in Manchuria and the Ryukyu Islands but, like the film's protagonist, refused any promotion above the rank of private. The three parts run 208 minutes, 183 minutes, and 196 minutes respectively. In Japanese, Mandarin, and Russian with subtitles.

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