Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kobayashi's Masterwork

ImageJapanese director Masaki Kobayashi’s massive, three-part masterpiece The Human Condition (Criterion) is, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, one of the greatest films ever made. Don’t be put off by the inordinate length (nine hours) and grim subject matter (a pacifistic Japanese soldier becomes a Soviet POW during World War II): Kobayashi, a truly humanist artist, has made a powerful, ultimately transcendent character study of one man’s struggle to make sense of inhumanity, and along the way created several momentous, extraordinarily cinematic set pieces that remain burned in one’s memory. Starring in this classic from the years 1959 to 1961 is a then-unknown, Tatsuya Nakadai, who gives a staggering performance and went on to star in more Kobayashi films, as well as several of Kurosawa’s. The luminous widescreen black and white photography, so integral to the film’s forcefulness, is rendered brilliantly in Criterion’s new transfer; a bonus disc includes a 1993 interview with Kobyashi, a new interview with Nakadai, and an appreciation of the film by director Masahiro Shinoda. All in all, a remarkable package for a remarkable film.

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