“A Soldier’s Prayer”
Directed by Masaki Kobayashi • 1961 • Japan
Masaki Kobayashi’s mammoth humanist drama is one of the most staggering achievements of Japanese cinema. Originally filmed and released in three parts, the nine-and-a-half-hour THE HUMAN CONDITION (NINGEN NO JOKEN), adapted from Junpei Gomikawa’s six-volume novel, tells of the journey of the well-intentioned yet naive Kaji (handsome Japanese superstar Tatsuya Nakadai) from labor camp supervisor to Imperial Army soldier to Soviet POW. Constantly trying to rise above a corrupt system, Kaji time and again finds his morals an impediment rather than an advantage. A raw indictment of its nation’s wartime mentality as well as a personal existential tragedy, Kobayashi’s riveting, gorgeously filmed epic is novelistic cinema at its best.