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1965, Janus Films, 160 min, Japan, Dir: Masaki Kobayashi

After more than a decade of sober political dramas and socially minded period pieces, the great Japanese director Masaki Kobayashi shifted gears dramatically for this rapturously stylized quartet of ghost stories. Featuring colorfully surreal sets and luminous cinematography, these haunting tales of demonic comeuppance and spiritual trials, adapted from writer Lafcadio Hearn’s collections of Japanese folklore, are existentially frightening and meticulously crafted.

1961, Janus Films, 190 min, Japan, Dir: Masaki Kobayashi

As the Soviets overrun the disintegrating Japanese war machine, Tatsuya Nakadai and a comrade (Yusuke Kawazu) are overlooked. They try to make their way south, encountering a striking variety of refugees along the way. But Nakadai is eventually taken prisoner and shipped off to a Siberian P.O.W. camp. Upon arrival, he finds the most viciously unrepentant of the Japanese soldiers have been made trustees by their Soviet masters while the majority of the detainees are being systematically starved. At last, barely alive Nakadai escapes into a hellish frozen wasteland – but does ultimate salvation or oblivion await him? “Kobayashi views his characters with tremendous compassion and a grand, overall sense of historical irony. … By the unutterably tragic conclusion of Part III, in which the story of one man’s inevitable destruction seems to embody the demolition of all the 20th century’s most noble dreams, I was profoundly grateful … to have stuck with THE HUMAN CONDITION to the end.” – Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com.

1959, Janus Films, 181 min, Japan, Dir: Masaki Kobayashi

At the end of the first installment, Tatsuya Nakadai’s attempt to work good in an evil system fails when everything the system represents conspires against him. In the second film, Nakadai is drafted and sent into a barbaric regimen of training as a punishment for his refusal to give up his humanist principles. The Soviet Union declares war on Japan, and its galvanized army floods into Manchuria. Enduring the horrors of the battlefield as well as abuse from many of his fellow soldiers for his pacifist reputation, Nakadai tries his best to stay in touch with his long-suffering wife (Michiyo Aratama). “THE HUMAN CONDITION was made at around the same time as Satyajit Ray’s APU trilogy and Luchino Visconti’s ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS, and like them it is a work of large-scale realism grounded in a thorough but undogmatic left-wing political sensibility … amazingly powerful in its emotional sweep and the depth of its historical insight.” – A.O. Scott, The New York Times.

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