A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Human Condition I: No Greater Love (Masaki Kobayashi. 1959)

Tatsuya Nakadai and So Yamamura in The Human Condition I: No Greater Love
Kaji: Tatsuya Nakadai
Michiko: Michiyo Aratama
Tofuko Kin: Chikage Awashima
Shunran Yo: Ineko Arima
Kageyama: Keiji Sada
Okishima: So Yamamura
Chin: Akira Ishihama

Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Screenplay: Zenzo Matsuyama, Masaki Kobayashi
Based on a novel by Junpei Gomikawa
Cinematography: Yoshio Miyajima
Art direction: Kazue Hirataka
Film editing: Keiichi Uraoka
Music: Chuji Kinoshita

The first three and a half hours of Masaki Kobayashi's nine-hour, 47-minute epic The Human Condition are themselves divided into two parts, though the break seems more a courtesy to the Sitzfleisch of the viewer than to any inherent division in the story. I have a friend who says he's never read a bad novel over 600 pages long, because once he's done with it he has to justify the time spent reading. I think something like that may apply to The Human Condition once I've finished it. Which is not to say that there isn't a greatness that adheres to Kobayashi's unsparing, audacious film, even though at times I found myself feeling that The Human Condition I: No Greater Love derived as much from the more earnest black-and-white Hollywood films of the 1940s, the ones that starred Tyrone Power or Gregory Peck, than from the high artistry of Ozu or Mizoguchi. It is often unabashed melodrama: We worry that Kobayashi hasn't burdened his protagonist, Kaji, with more than is really credible. An idealist, he not only finds himself supervising slave Chinese labor in Manchuria during World War II, he also has to manage a brothel staffed with Chinese "comfort women." And the more he does to better the lot of the workers, the more he elicits the ire of the kenpeitai, the Japanese military police. On the other hand, if he compromises with the authorities, the Chinese prisoners and prostitutes make his life miserable. And not to mention that, his wife is incapable of comprehending the stresses that make him so distant at home. But Tatsuya Nakadai is such an accomplished actor that he gives Kaji credibility, even when we're beginning to think he's too virtuous, too idealistic, for his own good.

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