THE HUMAN CONDITION - NO GREATER LOVE
NINGEN NO JOKEN I
1959, Janus Films, 208 min, Japan, Dir: Masaki Kobayashi

In real life, director Masaki Kobayashi (KWAIDAN) served in the Japanese Imperial Army but continually refused promotion, remaining a private throughout the duration of WWII as a way of protest. In this first installment of what is probably Kobayashi’s most outstanding achievement as a filmmaker, Tatsuya Nakadai portrays a newlywed pacifist who is sent with his wife (Michiyo Aratama) to Manchuria to put into practice his theories for improving conditions at labor camps. But optimistic Nakadai is slowly undermined not just by his civilian superiors’ complacency but also the brutal inhumanity of the military police overseers. The opening salvo of one of the great cinematic sagas of the 20th century, a classic that stands alongside Rossellini’s OPEN CITY, Kurosawa’s IKIRU and Kazan’s ON THE WATERFRONT as a social document defining personal courage. "A richly rewarding visual and human experience in all its bleakness. … Nakadai’s performance as a man of Christ-like forbearance, who travels to the edge of human endurance in a doomed and lonely struggle against an evil society, is both moving and charismatic.” – Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com.


SWORD OF DOOM
DAIBOSATSU TOGE
1966, Janus Films, 120 min, Japan, Dir: Kihachi Okamoto

Director Kihachi Okamoto made a slew of great films, including KILL!, DESPERADO OUTPOST, AGE OF ASSASSINS, SAMURAI ASSASSIN and THE HUMAN BULLET – to name only a few! – but his ultimate masterwork is this uncompromising samurai film. It is a riveting, desolate picture, anchored by a mesmerizing portrayal from Tatsuya Nakadai as paranoid killer Ryunosuke Tsukue, an outcast from his family and a hunted man recruited by the notorious Shinsengumi band of assassins. There have been many movie renditions of Kaizan Nakazato’s popular novel The Great Boddhisatva Pass since it first appeared 70-plus years ago, but Okamoto’s version in ashen black-and-white ’Scope best captures the nihilistic netherworld of the sociopathic swordsman. Masaru Sato’s music is at the pinnacle of a multitude of great Japanese movie scores from the 1960s. The supporting cast, including Toshiro Mifune, Michiyo Aratama and Yuzo Kayama, are all excellent. Screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto (who co-wrote many of Akira Kurosawa’s masterpieces) provides an expert distillation, going back to the literary source. If you’ve never seen it on the big screen, it is not to be missed.


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