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The Human Condition

The Human Condition

In L magazine Mark Asch already beat me to the punch, but it’s still worth noting right off the bat critic David Shipman’s claim that Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition (1959-1961), his three-film, ten-hour epic chronicling of a young idealist’s disintegration at the hands of Japan’s fascist regime during World War II, is “the finest achievement yet made by cinema” and “unquestionably the greatest film ever made.” That’s an interesting statement if for no other reason than that among Citizen Kane, The Rules of the Game, Bicycle Thieves, The Searchers, Rashomon and the other usual suspects voted or ranked as the “greatest film ever,” The Human Condition is ordinarily never in the running—heck, it fails to even receive a mention in The Oxford History of World Cinema. Judging the “greatest film ever” is always a pretty silly exercise, yet Shipman’s hyperbolic pronouncement would nevertheless be best used as an occasion to point the spotlight at this relatively obscure “greatest” in order to determine its true value and importance. Ambitious cinema of The Human Condition’s scope and magnitude is rare, and the mere dimensions of its canvas invite our undivided attention.

And once one gets through Kobayashi’s film, its value and importance become clear: The Human Condition, based on the novel by Jumpei Gornikawa, might be the last great humanistic films in the tradition of Jean Renoir, as well as a haunting swan song for the humanistic project in its own right.

Click here to read all of Michael Joshua Rowin’s piece on Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition

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