The Human Condition I: No Greater Love is about, you guessed it, the human condition and the problems with being a humanist when you’re working in a foreign country your country has invaded and occupied. The film takes place in 1943, in Japanese-controlled Manchuria. It’s a desolate spot, but lead Nakadai Tatsuya doesn’t want to go to war and the assignment lets him get out of the draft and he gets to marry his sweetheart, Aratama Michiyo.
These developments occur in the first fifteen minutes of Love, which runs three and a half hours. They should be important in establishing Nakadai and Aratama, but really it just shows the actors to have very little chemistry and very poorly written roles.
Director Kobayashi doesn’t bring much to film (he also cowrites the overcooked screenplay); he can’t direct the actors, wherever they shot on location adds all the tone and, even though Miyajima Yoshio’s photography is good, it’s clear the weak composition is holding it back.
Love is a historical melodrama. The cast is huge, nothing good ever happens to anyone, but it’s also a political melodrama and Kobayashi doesn’t like subtlety. At all. The film runs head first into any place it can make commentary–racism, classism, sexism–and leaves the characters racing to catch up.
At least they’re running through gorgeous landscape.
Yamamura Sô gives the best performance as Nakadai’s sidekick. The rest of the performances are, graciously put, thin.
Love avoids every interesting possibility and embraces every predictable.
Directed by Kobayashi Masaki; screenplay by Matsuyama Zenzô and Kobayashi, based on the novel by Gomikawa Jumpei; director of photography, Miyajima Yoshio; edited by Uraoka Keiichi; music by Kinoshita Chûji; production designer, Hirataka Kazue; produced by Wakatsuki Shigeru; released by Shochiku Company.
Starring Nakadai Tatsuya (Kaji), Aratama Michiyo (Michiko), Awashima Chikage (Jin Tung Fu), Arima Ineko (Yang Chun Lan), Yamamura Sô (Okishima), Ishihama Akira (Chen), Nanbara Kôji (Kao), Miyaguchi Seiji (Wang Heng Li), Abe Tôru (Sergeant Watai), Mishima Masao (Kuroki), Ozawa Eitarô (Okazaki), Mitsui Kôji (Furuya), Kôno Akitake (Captain Kono), Nakamura Nobuo (Head Office Chief), Sazanka Kyû (Meisan Chô) and Sada Keiji (Kageyama).