|Masaki Kobayashi director|
The Human Condition is a Japanese film trilogy made between 1959 and 1961. The three parts, No Greater Love, Road to Eternity and A Soldier's Prayer follows the story of Kaji and his survival during World War II era Japan.
|Chikage Awashima||Tôfuku Kin|
|Ineko Arima||Shunran Yô|
|Seiji Miyaguchi||Kyôritsu Ô|
|Toru Abe||Watarai Gunsô (Sergeant Watai)|
|See Full Credits|
The story spans three movies and six parts.
The film begins with the protagonist Kaji and his girlfriend Michiko in a discussion about the future of their relationship. Kaji is reluctant to pursue the relationship. He works with Michiko at the South Manchuria Steel Company along with his friend Kageyama. Kageyama has been drafted into military service. They plan to meet later that night to say goodbye.
Kaji is a pacifist and has a firm belief that the physical punishment of workers is counterproductive to production. He believes humans should be treated
humanely. He submits a treatise to his director entitled The Supervision of Colonial Labor. His director is impressed by his ideas but both he and Kaji see the difficulty in instituting such an idea in a Chinese labor camp where its core purpose is exploitation of Chinese workers. The director assigns Kaji to take over the Loh Hu Liong mines and put his theory into practice. This position will also help Kaji get exemption from military service. That night Kaji meets up with Kageyama and the next day Kageyama leaves for military service. Kaji asks Michiko to marry him and come with him to the Loh Hu Liong mines. She accepts.
At the Loh Hu Liong mines Kaji meets his partner, a man named Okishama. Okishama tells Kaji he was impressed with his essay. Foreman Furuya takes Kaji to meet the boss and the pit supervisors and their respective foremen. He explains to them his ideas for improving the labor conditions of the camp and is met with resistance, particularly from foreman Okazaki who feels the workers need to be broken in order get better results. Kaji learns in addition to the 10,000 men in camp there is an additional 60 Manchurian woman. The women are prostitutes for the workers and under his supervision as well.
Kaji quickly makes enemies with the supervisors and foremen. They are reluctant to adapt to his new style and become openly defiant. One day a Sergeant of the Military Police (Kenpeitai) by the name of Watai comes to the labor camp. He offers the boss six hundred “special laborers” from North China. The Kenpeitai leave specific instructions that these prisoners are not allowed to mingle with any other laborers in the camp and must be kept behind electrified barbed wire to prevent their escape. Kaji naively attempts to question the Sergeant when Okishama grabs him and pulls him out of the room.
Kaji and Okishama are put in charge of the 600 special laborers. They meet Wang Heng Li, the leader of the laborers along with a young, defiant worker named Kao. Kao despises the Japanese for what they have done to the Chinese people. He is convinced anything they say is a lie.
Kaji learns that foreman Okazaki had beaten one of laborers. The worker later dies from his injuries. Incensed, Kaji threatens to bring Okazaki up on charges but is harnessed when the boss threatens to back Okazaki if the matter is made public.
Kaji becomes frustrated and bottles up most of his frustration at work, never telling Michiko about any of his problems. Michiko herself is feeling isolated. She feels more like a housekeeper than a wife.
The pit supervisors and foremen attempt to get rid of Kaji by devising a plan. The plan is to help some of the special laborers escape the camp and force Kaji to answer to the Kenpeitai. With the help of one of the prostitutes, a young Chinese worker named Chen is seduced and eventually tricked into getting one of his friends to shut off the power to the electrical fence. Eleven laborers escape. Kaji is angered by the laborers lack of trust in him. He threatens Wang with harder labor if they will not help him find the laborers. Wang replies that they acted on their own, with no help from the others. Sergeant Watai comes to the camp and issues a warning that if one more laborer escapes he will personally kill the leader of the laborers and hold Kaji responsible for their escape.
Kaji and Michiko’s plans for a vacation are interrupted when Kaji is told another eighteen prisoners have escaped. He arrives at the camp to find Okishama beating Kao. Kaji restrains him and explains that he will ruin all they have been trying to accomplish by beating them. Kaji tells Okishama he can quit if he likes and Kaji alone will take responsibility. Kaji then informs the boss that
he will not report the incident to the Kenpeitai. Okishama decides to stay on.
Kao and a few other laborers were discussing the escape when foreman Okazaki spots them and begins to beat them. Fearing for their lives they run from him and Okazaki charges them with trying to escape. Okazaki reports this to the boss and Kaji while they are in a meeting with the Captain and Sergeant Watai of the Kenpeitai. Kaji tries to defend the laborers but only infuriates Watai. The Captain orders the laborers to be executed. He also orders Kaji to witness the execution.
Kaji makes several attempts to stay the executions. After being denied almost avenue he pursues, Kaji in an act of desperation tells Michiko he will set them free. Michiko stops him, reminding him that they would arrest him and she would be left alone.
Kaji attends the execution. Sergeant Watai has the laborers blindfolded and kneeling before a pit. He then hacks off their heads with his sword. Kaji witnesses the first two executions before Kao is brought forward. Kao is defiant to the end, refusing the blindfold and walking freely up to the pit. He stares down Kaji, saying he has the face of a man but the heart of a beast. Kao cries out “The Chinese Nation will live forever,” and is then killed. As Watai calls the fourth prisoner Kaji tells him to stop. The Sergeant threatens to kill Kaji if he interferes. Kaji refuses to back down. This causes the witnessing Chinese laborers to cry out “Murderers!” The guards are outnumbered and decide to stop the executions in order to keep the laborers from rioting. The Kenpeitai arrest Kaji and torture him for sympathizing with the Chinese. During his imprisonment Michiko and Okishama come to visit. Okishama tells Kaji he is leaving the camp and this will most likely be the last they see of each other.
Kaji is then suddenly released. Once released he reports to the boss. The boss hands him a summons to report for military service. It was left for him by the Kenpeitai.
Kaji begins his boot camp in the Japanese Army. He is subject to physical abuse by both the instructors and the third year soldiers at the camp. They view him as a communist sympathizer and call him a Red. One of the new recruits named Obara is constantly getting into trouble for his blunders. Kaji has become an expert marksman and the most skillful of all the recruits. He is charged throughout boot camp with helping train Obara.
Michiko writes to the camp commander asking for leniency toward Kaji. She pleads that the life of a recruit under suspicion would be a living hell.
One of the three year privates named Shinjo takes a liking to Kaji. He warns Kaji that he is under surveillance and one mistake is all the army would need to throw him in jail. Shinjo himself has been blacklisted by the Kenpeitai as a Red and is not trusted. He is put latrine duty with the first-year recruits, a task a three-year soldier like himself would find insulting but instead Shinjo advises the Warrant Officer that he will perform the duty himself without the help of the new recruits. Kaji is ordered to help him. After three years Shinjo is still only a Private. Shinjo confides in Kaji that he is going to make an attempt at deserting the army and make a run for the border.
Michiko comes all the way to the camp in an attempt to see Kaji. The commander calls Kaji a disgrace to military discipline but allows him to spend the night with her in the warehouse. Michiko tells Kaji that Sergeant Watai visits her every now and then, demanding to read Kaji’s letters to her. He is suspicious Kaji may try to desert the army. Kaji tells Michiko about Shinjo and his plans to desert the army and cross the border to freedom and humanity. Michiko pleads with him not go because she would not be able to follow him. She would be left in Japan by herself. Kaji promises her he won’t run away. He will carry on in the army in hopes of one day returning home to her.
During the training Obara collapses and a third year soldier named Yoshida beats and humiliates him for it. Obara decides to commit suicide. After two attempts at pulling the trigger he decides against it and accidently pulls the trigger when getting up. He dies. The recruits are punished for Obara’s “cowardice.” Kaji feels Private First Class Yoshida should be punished. He feels the humiliation brought on by PFC Yoshida lead to Obara’s suicide.
Shinjo is assigned to watch the border with another soldier named Bannai. They spot a signal flare close by and go to investigate it. They see a boy running from the lake and chase him to his
house. The boy says he was just fishing. Shinjo believes him but Bannai begins to beat him and orders Shinjo to arrest him. Shinjo ignores the order and allows the boy to run away. Bannai kills the boy. Shinjo is taken back to the barracks and beaten for letting the supposed spy escape. Commander WO Hino promises him he will go to prison for this. During the interrogation a prairie fire breaks out near the barracks. The entire squad is called out to help fight the fire. Shinjo uses this chance to escape and make a run for the border. PFC Yoshida pursues him and Kaji follows behind. During the chase Kaji pushes Yoshida into a quicksand pit. Yoshida cries out for Kaji to help. Kaji replies he will only help if he admits he made Obara commit suicide. Kaji pulls him out. Shinjo gets away. Kaji wakes up at the hospital. He meets a defiant private named Tange. The two become close friends during their stay at the hospital but Tange is soon sent back to his unit. Kaji’s unit has been ordered to the front. Tange gives Kaji news that Roosevelt is in Moscow talking to Stalin. They both agree that if Germany falls Japan will be on its own.
Kaji is shipped off to the front for further training. Once there he is reunited with his old friend Kageyama. Kageyama is a 2Lieutenant in charge of Kaji’s unit. He offers Kaji a promotion to Private First Class if he will help train the new recruits. A group of veteran artillery men are also at the camp. Kageyama would rather have Kaji train them than have the recruits suffer the brutality the veterans would put them under. Kaji accepts the proposal on the condition the veterans be separated from the new recruits. The veterans beat Kaji for this. They openly dishonor his rank over them. He is private first class but the veterans have wartime experience. Even Lieutenant Kageyama has trouble getting the veterans to listen to him due to his lack of wartime experience. Kageyama said Michiko has been writing to him. Kaji doesn’t want to read the leaders but just asks Kageyama to sum up what she had written. In the letter Michiko expresses concern over Kaji’s lack of correspondence. He never writes to her anymore. She is also praying he will make it back alive. Kaji asks him Kageyama to write her back saying he will make it out alive.
The veterans once again beat Kaji. The beating is far worse than the previous episodes. Kaji finally retaliates, threatening to kill anyone who tries to beat him again. Kageyama assigns Kaji to work detail outside of the camp in order to prevent further friction between him and the veterans. After that he plans to send Kaji away from the front to South Manchuria. It will also bring him closer to Michiko.
During work detail a reconnaissance plane spot the unit. The squad is ordered into combat. During the night the Hironaka squad comes into the camp. Kaji learns that the camp at Seiundai has been attacked and wiped out by the Russians. Kageyama died in the attack.
Kaji and the squad continue their work detail. One of his officers Terada is headstrong. He is the son of a major and views Kaji’s leftist leanings as weakness. Kaji calls him a fool and that dying in war is a dog’s death. They make final preparations before the Russians arrive.
The Russians route them, wiping out the platoon with a heavy tank attack. Kaji labels himself a monster for killing so many. He survives the attack and is able to escape.
Kaji, Terada and Corporal Hironaka are stranded behind enemy lines. They are heading for Mutankiang and in order to break free Kaji is forced to kill a Russian soldier on watch. The death of the Russian soldier has a profound effect on Kaji. He felt that during battle he was responsible for only a few isolated shots amid millions of rounds being fired. He again labels himself a murderer.
They come upon some food and stockpile up on the rice. They run into another soldier. He tells them he is heading for Korea and that Mutankiang has fallen. Hironaka feels they should have
reported him for desertion. Kaji takes this time to inform both of them he has no plans on returning to the army. He is heading home to South Manchuria to return to a normal life. Hironaka feels they would be dishonoring the “soldier’s code” if they were to abandon the army. Kaji says the soldier’s code does not apply to defeated men. Both Terada and Hironaka follow Kaji to South Manchuria.
They enter and the forest and quickly become lost. Neither man knows the way out. In the forest they run into a group of civilians fleeing the war. They are starving. Kaji gives them some of their food. He allows the civilians to follow them out of the forest against Hironaka’s wishes. They are short on food and dividing it up between them and the civilians won’t last them very long. After a few days travel they are quickly reduced to eating whatever they can find in the forest. Kaji has a sack of rice left but refuses to use it until he is certain they will make it out of the woods. One woman pleads with Kaji to let her have some rice for her baby. Kaji by this time has grown cold to suffering. He advises the woman to eat grass. The civilians begin to die “like flies.” Kaji and Terada come across another group of dead soldiers. They appeared to have been lost and died in the forest. Kaji vows not to give up.
Delirious and exhausted they spot a camp just outside the forest. It belongs to a Japanese unit. He approaches a captain named Nagata. Captain Nagata refuses them food, calling them cowards who should have died on the field with their unit. Kaji draws his firearm at the captain, telling him to keep his food and his lectures. They leave the camp.
Once outside the camp a soldier approaches them. It’s Private Tange from the hospital. Tange is surprised how Kaji’s appearance has changed. Kaji replies, “when it’s kill or be killed, you change.” Tange gives them food and joins with them.
They come upon a cornfield with Chinese laborers. In the distance they notice a group of Chinese militia armed with rifles. They also run into another squad of Japanese hiding under cover from the Chinese. They escape into the forest. Tange feels the Chinese militia is a good indication the war is over. Kaji feels if it was over they would urge them to surrender. Tange asks Kaji if he would do it. Kaji says no. Tange says they may soon be paying dearly for their worthless freedom.
They come across an abandoned home and decide to stay indoors for the night. They are surrounded by Chinese militia and forced into a fight. The militia leaves and Kaji decides it best to leave as well. They run into a brother and a sister heading home to find their parents. Kaji feels it wouldn’t be wise to look for them and they most likely won’t be alive. The girl still wants to try. Three soldiers, Krihara, Hikita and Fukumoto volunteer to walk with them for their safety. Kaji and the others head back to the camp. The three soldiers return early. Kaji presses Hikita where he left the girl and the boy. The three don’t outwardly confess but neither denies raping the girl. Kaji presses again as to what became of them. Kirihara admits to raping her. He and Kaji then get into a fight and Kaji strips all three of their arms and banishes them to the forest.
Kaji and his group run into another squad of Japanese soldiers. The commander reveals to Kaji a harebrained plan to wait on a Chinese civil war for Manchuria then attack with his 50 men. The commander also plans to execute two soldiers for trying to desert the army. Kaji offers some of his men who are willing to fight in exchange for the two deserters. The commander rejects the offer, ordering his officer to kill the men. He executes the men, driving Tange into a rage. He shoots the executioner. Kaji and his men leave the camp.
In the forest they spot a Russian platoon passing through. Tange decides to surrender to the Russians. He says goodbye to Kaji and waits for the squad to leave before surrendering.
The squad enters a small village and rest there. They are tired and looking to stay in the village as refugees. Kaji doesn’t refuse anyone but says he will continue on. They never get a chance to
leave as Russians enter the village. Kaji surrenders and the rest of the squad follow suit.
They Japanese soldiers are forced to walk for miles to a labor camp. Many of them collapse along the way. Once in the labor camp, they are forced to work long hours with little food and no winter clothing. Some of the Japanese officers have been allow to keep their rank and are put in charge of the laborers by the Russians. One of the puppet officers is Kirihara, the man who raped the young girl. He vows revenge on Kaji.
Kaji meets with the Japanese officers. They are accusing him of planting a saboteur among them. Kaji advises that Terada is not a saboteur but very sick and looking for food. The officers plead with Kaji to cooperate and weed out the saboteurs. Kaji refuses. The officers feel Kaji could be trouble for them if he is not dealt with soon.
Terada's health worsens. Kaji asks for help from the interpreter to help communicate with the Russians. The interpreter takes Kaji before the Russians to answer to the charges of sabotage and twists his words, giving the Russians the impression he is defiant to their authority. Kaji is assigned to railroad construction outside the camp. The vast terrain and cold temperatures make it impossible to attempt an escape. Here he meets up again with Tange. Kaji feels it was a mistake to walk all that way to surrender. He is also considering making one more mistake; escaping the labor camp. He is dissolusioned with the Russians exploitation of labor and reducation of the Japanese soldiers. He expected humane treatment from the Russians when he surrendered.
When Kaji returns to the camp he finds Terada dead. The others tell him how Kirihara had beaten him excessively. Kaji plans for his escape. Before leaving, Kaji tricks Kirihara into coming outside with him. He beats him with a chain and drowns him in the latrine.
Kaji then escapes. He travels far without food. He is met with contempt by the Chinese, who refuse to help him because he is Japanese. Cold and starving, Kaji dies in a snow storm, calling out Michiko.
Adapted from Junpei Gomikawa’s six volume novel and incorporating many of director Masaki Kobayashi’s experiences during the war, the filming was done in three shoots (one for each film)
The cast had to endure military training for 1 month so as to look authentic for the film. Tatsuya Nakadai performed his own stunts, one which included him jumping into a foxhole to avoid being run over by a Russian tank. In the barracks scenes the guards would beat Nakadai’s character Kaji. Nakadai said they actually beat him and many of the bruises were real. The entire trilogy spans 9 ½ hours.