#7 - The Human Condition II: Road to Eternity (Masaki Kobayashi)

note: article may contain spoilers for "The Human Condition I"


The suffering in duty.

The second part of “The Human Condition” directly follows the events of the first film in that we find our hero, Kaji, as a recruit in the Japanese army. And the army life is just as horrible as Kaji assumed in the first film.

The film goes in to great detail to portray the strict and abusive hierarchy of the Japanese army system during the second world war. Not only is a fresh recruit subjected to his superiors in rank, but also to the other soldiers in the boot camp who are just there a few years longer. And this is the main difference between the first and the second film.

While in the first film Kaji’s troubles where mostly those of moral and ideological nature, in the second they take a turn for the physical. He goes through torturous and rigorous physical abuse not only from the military training, but also by the hands of other Japanese soldiers who are quick to punish the lesser in rank for the slightest misstep. And because of his idealistic nature Kaji gets oftentimes gets the worst of it. In fact he’s looked upon with suspicion from the get go because of the events at the end of the first film.  

But he is not only an idealistic man but also an honorable one. He excels as a soldier despite the abuse and eventually gets to train a squad of his own. With a stern hand in training and a friendly disposition in the barracks he creates a little brotherhood around him, but they are all still subjected to the tortures by the veterans.

With this repetition of abuse inside the system Kobayashi establishes one of the strongest anti-military statements ever put on film. He directly confronts the sadism the military inspires and condemns it. And as the first film ended with a disappointment for our hero, Kobayashi sets up a new one with this band of recruits that Kaji is leading.

He is clearly weaving quite a fatalistic pattern for Kaji with these two films and because of this the films themselves often feel punishing, as they very rarely give Kaji or the audience a moment to rejoice. Then again that would be very much against the shared guilt aspect of the film mentioned in the prior article.

Still, like it’s the case with the first film, this somber mood provides quite a sobering experience. And this human drama, the stunning black and white photography and a fascinating central character make it a completely riveting film to watch.


Tatsuya Nakadai - Kaji
Kei Sato - Shinjo
Keiji Sada - Kageyama
Michiyo Aratama - Michiko

Original language: Japanese, Mandarin 

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