The Human Condition Trilogy is a single story spread across three discs. It is the story of Kaji, a man who serves in the Japanese army during World War II. Through the eyes of Kaji we see the way that the Japanese officials treated not only the people of the lands they invaded, but their own people as well. Kaji's initial naiveté and socialist ideals often bring him to conflict with those around him.
The Human Condition is based on the autobiographical novels of the same name by Junpei Gomikawa, and the director (Masaki Kobayashi) chose the project because he felt a connection with the movie's subject matter. This makes the story a deeply personal one for the people behind it.
This only benefits the movie; as Kaji and his journey are the main focus of the movie it is important that we get to know him. The Human Condition has a contemplative feel to it and it never feels the need to lionise its main character. Because the movie doesn't fail to criticise Kaji for his failings, it feels earned when he has something of a success. This is the story of how Kaji grew up, not the story of how Kaji became amazing.
A big part of why this journey feels so natural is Kaji's portrayal by actor Tatsuya Nakadai. The character of Kaji in the beginning of No Greater Love is very different from the Kaji we see at the end of A Soldier's Prayer. Tatsuya Nakadai not only expertly navigates these two extremes, but his performance alters so gradually that you don't notice the change as it is happening.
Of course, one man cannot carry a movie alone and the rest of the cast play their parts perfectly. Of particular note is Michiyo Aratama, who plays the role of Kaji's wife, whose portrayal enthuses her role with a great sense of determination.
The Human Condition Trilogy has two viewing options to be selected from depending on your preference. You can choose to watch The Human Condition as a trilogy or as a movie of six parts. The whole movie lasts about 9 hours and 47 minutes, so you will definitely want to pace yourself. Having utilised both options we can confirm that both are good choices, so it really depends how much time you want to spend on any one particular viewing.
The subject of how Japan's World War II-era legacy has been portrayed in film has been the subject of significant controversy, but The Human Condition feels like it is at least aiming to be honest. The film neither shies away from, nor does it glamourise, its subject matter. It is a thoughtful piece and worth checking out.
Special Features: Original Japanese mono soundtrack (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray) / Optional English subtitles / Introduction to the film by critic Philip Kemp / Selected-scene commentary by Philip Kemp / Theatrical trailers / Booklet featuring archival interview with director Masaki Kobayashi / Scholarly essay discussing post-World War II Japanese culture
THE HUMAN CONDITION TRILOGY/ CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: MASAKI KOBOYA / SCREENPLAY: MASAKI KOBAYASHI, ZENZO MATSUYAMA, KOICHI INAGAKI / STARRING: TATSUYA NAKADAI, MICHIYO ARATAMA, CHIKAGE AWASHIMA/ RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 19TH