The Human Condition

The mother of all war movies, Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition clocks in at almost ten hours and features an all-star Japanese cast. Filmed over four years and released as a trilogy from 1959-61, this epic tale follows one man as he experiences the totality of wartime life, from citizen to conscript to POW -- all during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in World War II. The young and naive pacifist Kaji begins as a high-minded socialist in charge of a forced labor camp, where his liberal and humane notions clash with the Japanese military ideals of discipline and obedience. Drafted as punishment, the young husband -- a skilled soldier, it turns out -- begins his endless confrontation with the imperial mind-set: at boot camp, on the front line, in combat, in hospital, and finally as a POW himself. And his experience in a Russian camp disabuses him of his radical sympathies. Kobayashi’s sweeping drama amounts to a perfect statement of postwar Japanese liberalism; it’s a post-ideological defense of humanism, and a thoroughgoing repudiation of militarism. But it’s also much more than that, since it raises all the moral issues related to war, regardless of time or place. Kaji’s relentless self-examination, fully embodied in Tatsuya Nakadai’s intense performance, works brilliantly against the breathtaking landscapes and the stunning realism of battle. For a movie this long, you will be amazed at the attention to detail and the carefully composed shots, the accumulation of which adds up to a surprisingly artful film. Like those other antiwar masterpieces Grand Illusion and Paths of Glory, The Human Condition is a triumph of cinematic design and execution.

July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).