Released in 6 acts over 3 entries, The Human Condition is considered Masaki Kobayashi's greatest work: an epic humanist tragedy, nearly 10 hours in length, set against World War II Japan. The production was directly adapted from a six-volume novel by Junpei Gomikawa, and also drew from Kobayashi's own experience as a pacifist attempting to survive in WWII Japan.
The film centers on Kaji (played by Tatsuya Nakadai), a smitten scholar with strong convictions in pacifism and socialism. The film presents Kaji attempting to retain his life and soul through various moral and ethical trials - all the while trying to get back to the woman he loves.
This film is notoriously painful to watch, due to its crushing theme and atmosphere. However, it is often considered to be the greatest singular piece of Japanese cinema ever created for its all-encompassing scope, its incredible ability to utterly dehumanize humanity and its incredible character development.note
The Human condition has 3 entries:
- The Human Condition I: No Greater Love (1959)
- The Human Condition II: Road to Eternity (1959)
- The Human Condition III: A Soldier's Prayer (1961)
Tropes featured in the film:
- Anti-Hero: Mostly of the Knight In Sour Armor type in Kaji near the end of the film.
- Being Good Sucks: Kaji is often the only one willing to be altruistic, and he has to fight an uphill battle trying to defend people's rights.
- Epic Movie: As a single film, it's 9 hours, 47 minutes long without any intermissions. So it definitely qualifies.
- Fallen Hero: Kaji is forced to change purely for his and his own peer's survival - although he becomes less and less concerned with others as time goes on.
- Humans Are Bastards: Even though Kaji risks himself to help others, nearly everyone else is willing to push him aside for a bag of rice.
- The Idealist: Kaji, of the wide-eyed kind at the beginning.
- Inherent in the System: Nearly everyone is self-serving - implying that in a crisis situation where civilization is collapsing the masses will do anything; morality no longer exists.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Despite Kaji's best intentions, his altruistic acts towards others often puts them in a worse-off situation.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: Its based on Junpei Gomikawa's six-part novel series. During filming, Kobayashi aimed to be as faithful to Gomikawa's work as possible; he had a copy of the original novel on hand to help him in this regard. If any scenes were in the book, but not the script, they would be added in when possible.
- Protagonist Journey to Villain: On an epic scale.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: The only motivation that remains in Kaji throughout the film is his desire to get back to his love, Michiko.
- Tragic Hero: Kaji, and his attempts to be good.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Kobayashi based much of the film on his very own experiences in the Japanese army during WWII.