Masaki Kobayashi’s famous Japanese anti-war epic (three 2-part films/9½ hours) follows Kaji, it’s left-leaning hero (Tatsuya Nakadai), as he delays his military service by taking a job as labor supervisor at a squalid mining operation (part one - NO GREATER LOVE); becomes a reluctant private in Manchuria as WWII winds down, fending off the stupid rigidity of his officers and the sadistic bullying of the vets (part two - THE ROAD TO ETERNITY); then roams the countryside with a diminishing group of army & civilian stragglers, only to wind up in a Russian POW camp where he loses the last of his political illusions (part three - A SOLDIER’S PRAYER). As Kaji’s humanistic instincts are slowly ground down (none of his good deeds goes unpunished), his soldiering improves and the film loses its way. The visual style turns generic with WideScreen vistas that dwarf man’s puny efforts and long takes to signify depth. In the end, the idiocies of military culture feel pretty generic, too. Ultimately, the film is monumental, yet relentlessly mediocre in both ideas & execution. Just don’t try convincing one of its many acolytes.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Though it was made later, there’s a lot of Dr Zhivago in the story, attitude & especially in Tatsuya Nakadai, who was a lot more comfortable the previous year in Kon Ichikawa’s superb ENJO/’58 and who is best known for his work with Akira Kurosawa after Toshiro Mifune was banished. Check out the tousled hair, the moist wounded eyes, the initial political enthusiasm for socialism, the reluctant but honorable military service, et al. Yet, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO was made years later. (Even odder, Kobayashi & ZHIVAGO helmer David Lean share just as many visual mannerisms.)