I just finished The Human Condition today and was utterly blown away. However, it’s the first of the Kobayashi films to fully satisfy me. I’ve seen Harakiri, Kwaidan and Samurai Rebellion and while all are visually brilliant and passionate, they have a quality to them that just doesn’t grab me. They feel a bit bloated and the pacing just feels very off. The pacing is very novelistic, but The Human Condition was the only one of his films where I really feel the novelistic pacing worked because there was time for it to develop and play out. How do others feel about this filmmaker and his work? I personally wish he had made more.
I adored Harakiri when I first watched it, but I won’t deny that it’s a pretty straight thriller. About as cool as they come. I remember seeing Samurai Rebellion in the theater and being surprised at how I was not impressed. I’m sorry to say I have yet to watch Kwaidan, but my precognition tells me I’m going to love it. I want to!
I did see Human Condition in the theater. By the end, it’s pretty insane… good example of the whole being more powerful than the sum of its parts. Heavy shit.
“I personally wish he had made more.”
Kobayashi was actually a prolific filmmaker, but it might take a while until his more obscure films like “Hymn of a Tired Man” or “The Fossil” will become widely available with subs. Other works like “Black River”, “Inn of Evil” or his epic documentary “Toky Trial” can already be tracked down though. “The Human Condition” is also my favorite among his films that are known to me, certainly one of the greatest cinematic depictions of man’s inhumanity and the fatal consequences of war. “Harakiri” is a more concentrative work which brilliantly attacks nonsensical traditions. “Kwaidan” works for me as a purely visual experience, though I wasn’t particularily taken by the ghost stories. As for the consesus (in case that something like that exists), he is certainly one of the most respected Japanese filmmakers, even though not all critics mention him alongside the triumvirate Ozu, Kurosawa, Mizoguchi. This might be a matter of style, but also due to under-representation of his body of work, which will hopefully change in the next couple of years.
Apursansar said it all.
I personally think he is the most emphatic of all Japanese filmmakers that I have seen.
an excerpt from my review of Black River:
Very few figures in cinema during his time were as delicate, and at the same time, profoundly expressive as Masaki Kobayashi. As a director, the portrayal and apparent exposé of his country’s atrocities formed Kobayashi’s reputation as an undisguised manifestation of integrity and brutal honesty. His films exist not only to serve as reminders but as unyielding indicators to the forces of human capability. Moving towards this grand idea of ultimate, unbiased perception, his work gradually matured and progressed; displaying a more aggressive focus on clarity amidst his fiction as time went on.
too bad I f’d up managing him in the cup :/
He’s sadly underrated and untheorized by film academics, but he’s personally in my top three favorite Japanese directors and I think Harakiri is of the best social critique period films ever made in any country.
I certainly appreciate his social critique, but one thing that’s bothered me about his films is that when I watch them I feel like the plot is progressing faster in my head than it is on screen. I have no problem with slow simmering films, and when it works for him it really works, but I feel like a lot could have been left on the cutting room floor.
@ Zach I feel like a lot could have been left on the cutting room floor
You meant too much (of Kobayashi) was left on the cutting room floor?
I’ve seen Harakiri/Seppuku and Samurai Rebellion. My favorite Japanese film maker but he seems to be overshadowed by Kurosawa, Ozu and Mizoguchi.
Robert, I think it could go either way. When I made my statement, I meant that some of his films could have been shorter and edited more. There was no reason for Kwaidan to be as long as it was, and the length dampens the impact of some of the segments. Yet, at the same time had his films had longer running times there might have been time to develop his stories more.
Yeah, Kwaidan is already segmented though, no need to watch it straight through, imo.
Interestingly enough I received Harakiri from Netflix a day before this thread was made. Watched it tonight(my first Kobayashi) and thought it to be masterful. One of the great things about the movie is the way it covers everything, never skipping over anything. The slow pacing makes it all the better, especially the way it builds one moment after the other. Tatsuya Nakadai continues to amaze me with his chameleon-like acting abilities. Which one would you guys recommend next? I was thinking of watching Samurai Rebellion before jumping into The Human Condition.
I like Samurai Rebellion a great deal, even if it isn’t quite as talked about as Harakiri I think it’s more or less as good and it would be a good follow up to Harakiri even if you don’t agree entirely with my assessment.
One of the things I find interesting is how Kobayashi has come to be seen as a more important director than someone like Kon Ichikawa who used to be considered in something of the same vein as Kobayashi is now. Neither of the two has many of their films easily available for view, but the Kobayashis seem to be more crowd pleasing, at least prior to Human Condition. Anyone have any good theories as to the seeming shift or is it just a US thing?
Saw The Human Condition a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it.
If I ever get a dog again and it’s a male, I will name it Kaji.
Before that the only thing of Kobayashi’s I’d seen was Harakiri, which is also great.
I have the DVD of Kwaidan here but haven’t watched it yet.
I was very, very impressed by Samurai Rebellion, which had many wonderful poetic moments. I’m really eager to see his other films now.
I love Kobayashi…and am so thrilled the coming Eclipse set of his films has Black River which is among his best. Can’t wait to see the other three, of which I didn’t even know existed.
FYI his films are available on Hulu right now to stream before they get released on DVD in April
江戸の雨何石呑んだ時鳥 えどのあめなんごくのんだほとゝぎす 初しぐれ猿も小蓑をほしげ也 はつしぐれさるもこみのをほしげなり 古池や蛙飛込む水の音 ふるいけやかわずとびこむみずのおと 梅津時比古, "セロ弾きのゴーシュの音楽論
That’s the consensus on Kobayashi…
What are those frames from Enygma?
kwaidan in my top 10, harakiri in my top 20, also adore samurai rebellion
want to watch the human condition but i’m waiting until the moment is just right
C.J. Roy: They are from Kobayashi’s Kwaidan – certainly one of the most beautiful color films ever! The images are surreal, sublime, and perfectly capture the tone and mood of the Lafcadio Hearn stories the individual segments of the film focus on (in Kobayashi’s re-imagining). For me, it is his unqualified masterpiece.
I am especially partial to the The Woman of the Snow episode.