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

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Human Condition III: A Soldier's Prayer (Masaki Kobayashi, 1961)

Tatsuya Nakadai in The Human Condition III: A Soldier's Prayer
Kaji: Tatsuya Nakadai
Michiko: Michiyo Aratama
Shojo: Tamao Nakamura
Terada: Yusuke Kawazu
Choro: Chishu Ryu
Tange: Taketoshi Naito
Refugee Woman: Hideko Takamine
Ryuko: Kyoko Kishida
Russian Officer: Ed Keene
Chapayev: Ronald Self

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

Homer's Odysseus made it home to Ithaka and Penelope, but Masaki Kobayashi's Odysseus, Kaji, doesn't make it home to his Penelope, Michiko, and he's not certain that his Ithaka in southern Manchuria still exists. Kaji struggles toward her against all odds, but dies in a snowstorm, without even a moment of transcendence or a heavenly choir on the soundtrack to ennoble his death. It's a downer ending to a nine-hour epic, but if it feels right it's thanks to the enormous conviction of Tatsuya Nakadai as the stubborn idealist Kaji. The Human Condition is an immersive experience rather than a dramatic one: Drama would demand catharsis, and there is really none to be had from the film. The human condition depicted in the film is Hobbesian: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short -- though the length of the film works against the last adjective. It is a statement film: War is a stupid way for people to behave to one another. And as such it never quite transcends its message-making, leaving the film somewhere short of greatness. Still, it has to be seen by anyone who seeks to understand Japan in the twentieth century and after, and by anyone who wants to know the limits of film as an art form.

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