Why The Human Condition broke post-war attendance records when it was released in Germany (as Barfuß durch die Hölle) is another matter. The trilogy's episodic format, length, and gigantic ambition calls forth comparison with Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz, a 15-hour long, 14-part adaptation of Alfred Döblin's mighty novel, and Edgar Reitz's 15-hour long, 30-episode film series Heimat (1984-2013). Kobayashi's film is longer than it needs to be, but it has a similar appeal, namely that of an unnaturally intelligent and beautifully shot soap opera: the experience of total immersion, the familiar locations, the familiar actors, and the identification with known characters. Although best experienced in a single sitting, ideally in a cinema, The Human Condition can equally well be appreciated and digested in bite-size slithers, like any novel and like those films by Fassbinder and Reisz. It should be noted, though, that while Fassbinder and Reitz in Germany, and Kon Ichikawa and Nagisa Oshima in Japan developed a close relationship with television, Kobayashi detested the medium and avoided it as much as possible. Despite his contempt for the form, it clearly influenced the structure and style of his film, if only by a process of osmosis.
Hideko Takamine's appearance in The Human Condition points to an additional explanation for the film's puzzling popularity. It was often shown at all-night screenings and she, and others from the cast, helped promote it with personal appearances. With her soft, vulnerable beauty and extraordinary talent, she was Japan's 'golden girl', an internationally renowned actress who had already worked with Kurosawa, Naruse, Kinoshita and Ozu. Her husband, Zenzô Matsuyama, to whom she was introduced by Kinoshita, co-scripted the film. Tatsuya Nakadai, too, was already an established star who had already worked for Ichicawa, Kurosawa and Kobayashi (on Black River). In the Japanese context, this would have been a 'star-studded' film with a 'stellar cast' on the level, almost, of Hollywood spectaculars such as, say, The Longest Day (1962). Watching Takamine and Nakadai, re-living a living hell through and with them, they would have felt their pain and their own. A problem shared is a problem halved and, as we've said, to add to the film's popular appeal, there's the love story of Taji and Michiko, like something out of David Lean's Dr. Zhivago (1965).
BBC - Religions - Shinto: Beliefs about the universe
After completing The Human Condition, he would turn his attention to ancient forms of mysticism and magic in (1965) and, in (1962) and Samuri Rebellion/Joi-uchi (1967), to the feudal system challenged, before him, by masterless rônin. With the continuing assistance of Tatsuya Nakadai, he continued to contest history but his jidaigeki films are as much about the present as the past, reflecting Japanese culture's insistence on the continuity between then and now. Again, he holds systems not individuals to account. In response to a question from Linda Hoaglund, he said: 'All of my pictures, from a certain point on, are concerned with resisting entrenched power . . . That's what Harakiri is about, of course, and Rebellion as well. I suppose I've always challenged authority. This has been true of my life's work, including my life in the military.' It was a life well spent and, although he refused military awards, one garlanded with honours. Hildegard Bachert described Käthe Kollwitz, that indefatigable pacifist and campaigner for social justice, as 'Germany's noble conscience in its darkest hours.' Masaki Kobayashi was Japan's noble conscience in its darkest hours. In his Story of Cinema, David Shipman called The Human Condition 'unquestionably the greatest film ever made.' Such questionable hyperbole overstates the case, but it is, unquestionably, one of the most important, courageous, moving and memorable films ever made.
Nudity in Ancient to Modern Cultures--Aileen Goodson
Although most of his colleagues and the Kempeitai (the military police) hinder him at ever turn, he is befriended and abetted by a veteran foreman, Okishima (Sô Yamamura), who sympathises with his aims. This is one of several friendships Kaji forms with like-minded compatriots or comrades – relationships reflecting the political solidarities that were deepening as the film was made and as the left's opposition to ANPO intensified. Initially suspicious of the college boy sent to supervise his charges, Okishima is won over by Kaji's commitment, sincerity and self-sacrifice but is experienced enough to see that he is on a (literal) hiding to nothing. After a group of Chinese prisoners escape, he drunkenly staggers into Kaji's quarters to deliver a keynote speech in which he asks Kaji how long he intends to keep up his futile attempts 'to straddle a fundamental contradiction and try to justify it?' Okishima is subsequently ordered back to head office and as the two men affectionately part company for the final time, he says to Kaji: 'I'm boarding this run-down truck but you're trying to catch the train of humanity before it's too late . . . You seem prepared to pay the fare, no matter how high it is.' The film forcibly reminds us that the road (or railway) to hell is paved (or laid) with good intentions and shows how Kaji, despite his good will, forces others to pay the price of his principles. His ideals are given no space to breath, as Kobayashi drives home the point that a corrupt system corrupts all.