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

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Human Condition II: Road to Eternity (Masaki Kobayashi, 1959)

Tatsuya Nakadai in The Human Condition II: Road to Eternity
Kaji: Tatsuya Nakadai
Michiko: Michiyo Aratama
Shinjo: Kei Sato
Obara: Kunie Tanaka
Yoshida: Michiro Minami
Kageyama: Keiji Sada
Sasa Nitohei: Kokinji Katsura
Hino Jun'i: Jun Tatara

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

If, as I said yesterday, the first part of Masaki Kobayashi's The Human Condition makes me think of the earnest "serious pictures" that came out of Hollywood in the 1940s -- I have in mind such movies as The Razor's Edge (Edmund Goulding, 1946), in which Tyrone Power searches for the meaning of life, or Gentleman's Agreement (Elia Kazan, 1947), in which Gregory Peck crusades against antisemitism -- then the second part, Road to Eternity, suggests, even in its subtitle, the influence of  From Here to Eternity (Fred Zinnemann, 1953), that near-scathing* look at brutality in Army basic training. Kaji, our idealistic protagonist, has been sent to war, and has to endure all manner of abuse even though he's an excellent marksman and a sturdy trooper. His objections to Japanese militarism and his belief that the war is wrong mark him out as a "Red," and for a time he contemplates escaping into his idealized version of the Soviet Union. But his sympathy for his fellow recruits keeps him plugging away, occasionally taking heat for his defense of them, especially from the military veterans who have been called up to serve. They object to his treating the recruits he is put in charge of training with respect and human decency -- they went through hell in basic training, so why shouldn't everyone? The film ends with a cataclysmic battle sequence, during which Kaji has to kill one of his fellow soldiers, who has gone stark raving mad and with his antics threatens the lives of other soldiers. It's not the first time Kaji has resorted to killing a fellow soldier: Earlier, he has been mired in quicksand with a brutal man who has caused the suicide of a recruit, and Kaji lets him drown. The intensity of the battle scenes takes some of the focus away from Kaji's intellectualizing, which is all to the good.

*I have to quality: From Here to Eternity is not as scathing as the James Jones novel on which it's based, thanks to the Production Code and the residual good feeling of having won the war. In some ways, The Human Condition II is more properly an anticipation of Stanley Kubrick's no-holds-barred
Full Metal Jacket (1987).

No comments: