Human Condition I: No Greater Love

Contrary to popular Western belief, Akira Kurosawa is not the only Japanese master of film.

Set in a labor camp of 1943 Japan, Human Condition I: No Greater Love(1959) is the first of the WWII trilogy of Masaki Kobayashi.

Kobayashi places a humanist, Kaji (brilliantly played by the striking Tatsuya Nakadai), in charge of the workforce at a labor camp. Believing that all humans should be treated with dignity, he is immediately faced with the conflict of his position, and the impossible task of working within the system to change it. Again and again, his dedication to principle is tested, often brutally.

In addition, Kaji is a newlywed. His new wife, Machiko (Michiyo Aratama) struggles to make her marriage work, but does so by being more of a wife–when the answer is to engage her husband as a human.

Slow in parts but always emotionally riveting, No Greater Love is a film to see for two reasons: the above-mentioned performance of Tatsuya Nakadai, and the starkly stunning camera work of Yoshio Miyajima. The utterly barren landscape of a strip mine wrings out all hope for shelter in nature–there is no nature here, and the eye is left longing for the only light; the human light.

This is a long haul: two installments total three hours. The entire trilogy is more than nine. Watch in bits and pieces if necessary (I certainly had to), but do watch.

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