Monday 30 December 2013

Human Condition III: A Soldier's Prayer [1961]

Kobayashi’s monumental trilogy, which served as an incredibly powerful indictment on Japan’s role in WWII, in particular, and the utter futility of wars, in general, was brought to an unforgettable conclusion with A Soldier’s Prayer. While No Greater Love focused on Japan’s atrocities on China and the issue of class struggle, and Road to Eternity on the dehumanizing nature of armed forces, this, which was also the bleakest and the most harrowing of the lot – which is saying something, provided a look at the devastating aftermaths of war from physical as well as spiritual standpoints. With the Japanese Army decimated at the hands of the Allied Forces, Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai), along with a few comrades, embarks on an insanely exhausting odyssey on foot in order to get back to his wife, experiencing unlikely camaraderie, oppositions, tragedy, and guerilla attacks by Chinese rebels on the way which tests his resilience and brings forth his leadership instincts. When he finally surrenders to the Soviets having been utterly fed-up with the mindless violence, his life, which was already on the brink, starts going into a tailspin. He’s derided by the Soviets as “samurai bandit” and is deliberately taken for a cruel ride by the Japanese interpreter in the POW labour camp where he’s sent. The psychological meltdown that he suffers during the cathartic finale, in the middle of a barren, snow-field desert, on account of disillusionment, hopelessness and delusion, was therefore, both heartbreaking and symbolic of how the individual is crushed by the collective, and completes Kaji’s vicious circle. In keeping with the rest of the trilogy, the B/W cinematography, score and Nakadai’s performance were all marvelous.

Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Genre: Drama/War Drama/Psychological Drama
Language: Japanese/Mandarin/Russian
Country: Japan


Sam Juliano said...

This is absolutely the bleakest and most harrowing of the three films as you note and it completes a true masterpiece of Japanese cinema. You do such a great job here examining the film with scholarly heft.

Shubhajit said...

Thanks a lot Sam. The trilogy was brought to a magnificent, unforgettable & incredibly harrowing conclusion with this flat-out masterpiece. The trilogy really leaves one emotionally drained.