#8 - The Human Condition III: A Soldier's Prayer (Masaki Kobayashi)

note: may contain spoilers for "The Human Condition" trilogy.


Apocalypse of the soul.

As I mention in my last post, there is a pattern being established within these films. So it’s of very little surprise that the last film in this amazing trilogy brings our hero, Kaji, full circle. And if it’s difficult to watch a character like Kaji be punished relentlessly, then the idea that you might well know where his journey is taking him adds another gut-wrenching layer to the whole affair.

After the crushing defeat by the Russians at the end of the second part Kaji decides to return to South Manchuria, where his wife and his home are. On his journey he is joined by a few other survivors of the Russian assault, and he is forced to overcome treacherous terrain, starvation, enemy lines and ultimately imprisonment. In this film Kaji’s journey also becomes more internalized, and the tone of the film takes a turn for the apocalyptic.

Kobayashi shows us the horrible and desperate things that regular human beings can and will do when they are faced with a crisis of this magnitude and possibly their own imminent demise. This is something that the series has been clearly building up to all along, and shows that regular people can be just as easily corrupted by a war as the ones actively participating in it. And because of this the more I think about “The Human Condition” the harder it becomes for me to view these three films as separate entities.

Still, one of the most commendable things that Kobayashi does with “The Human Condition” is that he has created three films that can easily work as three individual films. They all portray a separate aspect of war and if it was not for Kaji they could have easily passed off as unconnected films. However, together these three films make it a human chronicle of undeniable power, and one of the greatest feats, not only of Japanese, but of world cinema.

This is not only because of the vast scale of the production and the organizational nightmare if must have provided, or the humane message it is communicating, but also because of the underlying artistic expression within the film.

In a lot of ways “The Human Condition” is pure cinema. It does not conform itself to a set filmmaking language, but in turn creates one of its own. It does away with lazy coverage shots and fully embraces the glory of its wide screen format.  The editing is done for impact, not for style or flow. And the superb cinematography builds its style from the human emotion and interaction that it is capturing and not the popular stylistic whims and trends, like a lot of films today seem to do. There is purpose behind every frame of this film, which in turn empowers the effect of the narrative even more.

Today this is mostly seen as counter-intuitive, as films that are supposed to be gripping dramas are shot by a predictable and tired formula. It is effective only to a point, but it is also utterly uncinematic, lazy and cheap.

And because of this a film like “The Human Condition” seems superior to a point where it transcends time, location, language and even ideology by the sheer power of the unity of the cinematic elements and the emotional impact that they are all working towards. It is an undeniable and unforgettable masterpiece.


Tatsuya Nakadai - Kaji
Taketoshi Naito - Tange
Yusuke Kawazu - Terada
Michiyo Aratama - Michiko

Original language: Japanese, Mandarin, Russian

The Human Condition III on IMDb

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