quinta-feira, 30 de maio de 2013
The Human Condition (人間の條件) 1959-1961 by Masaki Kobayashi
This famous Japanese film re-creates the brutal end of World War II in Manchuria. Powerful in image and message, the movie is also long. Its three parts, lasting more than nine hours, present an often riveting, nearly unrelenting depiction of the inhumanity of war.
While the main outlines of the story are accurate, the brush of characterization is broad. The hero, of course, is superheroic, his marriage sentimentalized, and Manchuria itself the stuff of inverted colonial romance. Stereotypes of Korean thugs, Chinese harlots, cruel Soviet officers, and even brutal Japanese military police present a cardboard parade of figures (and prejudices) marching in nasty unison. Still, to say that not every Soviet foot soldier was a rapist is not to gainsay the general fact that everything in the film probably happened—and not just once but repeatedly. At issue is not the reality of one scene or another but the way in which we remember war.
The execution sequence - from Part 2 of Kobayashi's The Human Condition - confronts Kaji (Nakadai Tatsuya) with the impossibility of the facade he has been trying to sustain
The 1,500,000 Japanese left in Manchuria at the end of the war included 600,000 military prisoners, of whom huge numbers were shipped to Soviet labor camps in Siberia. Of the civilian population of 270,000 Japanese settlers, 80,000 died— some at the hands of the Chinese and the Russians, others from starvation or suicide. About 140,000 civilians were eventually repatriated to Japan, only to find that their contributions toward building the “new paradise” in Manchukuo were little appreciated at home. The jewel in Japan’s imperial crown had turned to paste at a terrible cost to both Chinese and Japanese.
The film (1959-61) was based on Junpei Gomikawa’s six-volume novel of the same title (1956-58)—which, despite its formidable length, sold 250,000 copies. The movie, listed for a time in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest feature film ever made, was also a surprising success despite its length and subject. For years it was possible to revive a Tokyo theater’s fortunes with a through-the-night showing of all three parts of The Human Condition. The film made actor Tatsuya Nakadai famous and gave director Masaki Kobayashi a basis for future cinematic expressions of social protest—including his masterpiece, Harakiri (Ritual Suicide, 1962)
Consisting of three provinces in northeastern China between Siberia and Korea, Manchuria became the object of imperialist rivalry between Russia and Japan in the late nineteenth century. The Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, brought Japan colonial territory in South Manchuria. Japan seized the whole of Manchuria in 1931 and established the puppet state of Manchukuo. The Soviets occupied Manchuria in 1945, and it was finally returned to Chinese sovereignty one year later.
Empire of the Sun
In the 1850s, Japan felt the threat of Western imperialism as European powers began new encroachments into Asia. Japan was spared the experience of colonization—partly because the United States, which took the main initiative in approaching Japan, wanted trade more than territory and partly because Japan responded rapidly by adopting the ways of Western civilization, which included seeking an empire of its own. That empire was near-flung, encompassing Asian territory mostly close to home: Taiwan, Korea, southern Sakhalin (from Russia), South Manchuria, and after World War I the former German islands in the South Pacific. Manchukuo, established in Manchuria in 1932, was different. Mixing military empire, economic planning, and social utopianism, Japan undertook the prototype of what it later vainly promoted as the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
World War II As We Don’t Know It
As its name indicates, the Second World War was a global conflict. For the United States, the end of the war meant the defeat of the Axis powers and the start of the Cold War. But for Asia it meant that and much more, as even the single case of Manchuria shows. Its empire gone, Japan moved toward peace, democracy, and alliance with its former enemy, the United States. Meanwhile China, finally freed from its Japanese predators, was engulfed in a civil war, which the Communists won in 1949, their strong support among the peasantry having been greatly expanded by the experience of fighting the Anti-Japanese War (the Chinese name for World War II). The ensuing struggle among Soviet, Chinese, and Korean Communists to establish their respective versions of socialism continued for decades, and a divided Korea represented a postwar legacy still unresolved more than a half century later.
Public memory of the Second World War has a history of its own. In 1995, the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war revealed how much had changed since the 1950s, when this film was made—and how much had not. For decades Japanese had kept the focus of memory fixed on the Pacific War, the Japanese-American part of the conflict.
Unit 731 (731部隊) - Harbin
Saburo Ienaga, The Pacific War (Pantheon, 1978)
Louise Young, Total Empire (Harvard University Press, 1996)
Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai)
Michiko (Michiyo Aratama)
Okishima (Soh Yamamura)
DIRECTOR: Masaki Kobayashi; PRODUCER: Shigeru Wakatsuki; SCREENPLAY: Zenzo Matsuyama, Masaki Kobayashi; STUDIO: Shochiku; VIDEO: Sony; RUNNING TIME: 208 min. (Part 1); 180 min. (Part 2); 190 min. (Part 3)
In: Past Imperfect. Historu According to the Movies. General Editor: Mark C. Carnes. A Society of American Historians Book. New York, 1996, pp. 250-253.