A Soldier's Prayer

1961, Drama, 3h 10m

2 Reviews 500+ Ratings

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A Soldier's Prayer Photos

Movie Info

Illness and fatigue force a World War II Japanese soldier (Tatsuya Nakadai) to surrender to the Russians.

Cast & Crew

Critic Reviews for A Soldier's Prayer

All Critics (2) | Top Critics (1) | Fresh (2)

Audience Reviews for A Soldier's Prayer

  • Mar 18, 2011
    see review for "the human condition 1".
    danny d Super Reviewer
  • Sep 30, 2009
    <i>"Michiko... I'm a murderer! These hands which have once fondled your charms have killed a man! For the sake of crossing a mere road in safety! Was I justified? Or was it just wanton murder? Michiko! Tell me which is right?"</i> <CENTER><u>NINGEN NO JÔKEN (1961)</u></CENTER> <b>Director:</b> Masaki Kobayashi <b>Country:</b> Japan <b>Genre:</b> Drama / War <b>Length:</b> 190 minutes <CENTER><a href="http://s712.photobucket.com/albums/ww125/ElCochran90/?action=view¤t=NingennoJkenIII.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://i712.photobucket.com/albums/ww125/ElCochran90/NingennoJkenIII.jpg" border="0" alt="Human Condition,Masaki Kobayashi,Tatsuya Nakadai,Japan"></a></CENTER> <i>Ningen no Jôken</i>, the epic dinosaur drama of Masaki Kobayashi universally known as the famous Human Condition trilogy, is one of the most staggering, haunting, visually captivating and emotionally moving and heartwarmingly ambitious dramas ever made in cinema history. Its power and glory are unprecedented and it established a notoriously influential landmark in patriotic Japanese filmmaking. Whereas Japanese films had a big amount of disciplinary and moral issues with abusive authoritative figures as a political background and were mainly Samurai movies, a branch that mainly predominated during the 50's and 60's, <i>Ningen no Jôken</i> imposed a difference. Telling and narrating three (!) sides of the Second World War through the eyes of a simple, patriotic humanist man of Japan, a film that was originally divided into 6 parts and latterly divided into three, its sheer power, brilliance and haunting beauty is here to stay throughout the generations of humanity. It is here to work as a reminder of the strength of the human soul, the perseverance of the spirit through the numerous hardships of life, no matter how brutal they may seem, and to understand that our life belongs to a "superior being" and not to us, obviously from a Buddhist perspective. It is remarkable how this giant film was one of the first well-known and disseminated cinematic projects of Japanese master Masaki Kobayashi being, at the same time, one of the best films ever committed to celluloid. While several filmmakers usually dream with their last movie being a masterpiece and wish to end up their filmic careers in a memorable way, the meaning and size of Kobayashi's "trilogy" surpasses any of those projects, resulting in arguably the best war film ever made on par with Sergei M. Eisenstein's <i>Bronenosets Potyomkin</i> (1925), Francis Ford Coppola's <i>Apocalypse Now</i> (1979), and <i>Obchod na Korze</i> (1965) by Ján Kadár & Elmar Klos, among other meaningful luminaries of the genre. The story has been modernly separated into three parts: "No Greater Love", "The Road to Eternity" and "A Soldier's Prayer", although it is still divided into the original six parts, each of them having a clear and equally devastating ending. The two first parts introduce the character Kaji, a humanist protagonist and an utter patriotic conscientious extraordinarily played by Tatsuya Nakadai. Kaji is offered military exemption under the condition that he fulfills his duty working as a supervisor in a Manchurian POW camp. He witnesses the cruelty of the Japanese authorities towards the extremely mistreated and deteriorated Chinese prisoners, so he decides to stop following orders of his superiors regarding their inhumanly disciplinary methods and contribute to the welfare of the prisoners. This causes him a conflict with them so he is forced to serve in the Japanese army. That is the premise of the following two parts, where he helps a friend to flee with the Russians while he is brutally abused by his superiors, men who see his patriotism and guts and end up putting him up for promotion. He is ultimately sent with a hopelessly armed group of men against the attack of the Russian armored divisions, culminating in disaster and in consequences Kaji seemingly will never be able to forgive to himself. The final two parts of the film focus on the journey of Kaji and the survivors of the last episode to Manchuria constantly sneaking behind enemy lines, being finally captured by the Russian forces and causing Kaji to be ironically in the same position the Chinese prisoners were when they were under his charge. The only thing he deeply yearns for is to return to his wife Kaji, whom he had married before going to the Manchurian camp. The whole trilogy gathered a total of 8 wins. <i>Ningen no Jôken III</i> won five awards at the Mainichi Film Concours in 1962 for Best Cinematography, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Film and Best Director. Michiyo Aratama had also won two awards for her melodramatic performance. Technical perfection is one of the characteristics that may first arise to a human mind when the title of the film is mentioned. The brutality of the Second World War is overshadowed by an elegant and vast cinematography that gorgeously covers, in an effective war-like black-and-white tone, vast scenarios, gigantic landscapes, big congregations of armed men, and the facial expressions of the most relevant protagonists reacting to the unbelievable events that thoroughly take place in such a hostile and catastrophic environment. It mirrors the features of a Greek tragedy from a Japanese perspective. The vision of portraying the horrors of war through the eyes of a man has always carried a very personal and moving connotation, interestingly causing an everlasting impact. Perhaps it was Kobayashi's intentions to transform such a massive world conflict in a war which grandiose proportions are complicated to understand for human minds. Therefore, the amount of violence and cruelty on and off screen is considerably big, making it a challenging watch not suitable for highly sensitive eyes. The music is as epic as the film itself and the camera work is spellbinding. Each part of the trilogy contains one (if not several) scenes which seem so powerful and giant in scale that they are meant to permanently stay in the mind. The Chinese prisoners shouting "Murderer! Murderer!" in the second episode, the war sequence and the ending scene in the fourth episode, and Kaji's desperate search for his wife in the sixth episode are easily among the best scenes ever filmed. The first part offers highly humanistic messages. "You finally have caught the humanism train" is the most important line told to Kaji when the people around him realize the honesty and truthfulness behind his motives. Unfair consequences are the next steps he must walk, but justice prevails after all, either literally or not. A great contrast is offered in the sequel, turning into an action-oriented piece of filmmaking, a chapter where the editing and the sound effects magisterially orchestrate their technical roles in a breathtaking way. However, his saintliness is so high that he does everything in his way to avoid becoming the inhuman superiors that always ordered him to perform questionable actions. When his rank is promoted, he offers the treatment not only that he always wished to receive, but also the one that he knew was the correct one all along. "Renoirish" humanism is still a present factor. The last part gathers some flashbacks of the previous installments as a perfectly justified excuse to question the actions and decisions that Kaji has made and taken throught his process of humanization. Murder is the last action he wishes to perform, yet he is compelled to for the sake of survival... of his survival and the survival of his fellow, national companions. He is haunted by the possibility of his wife Michiko rejecting him because of that. Analyzing the female character of Michiko, she is the model woman that gathers every single benign standard, morally and emotionally speaking. Her love for Kaji is as great and epic as the premise of the movie itself. She suddenly seems to symbolize the great love Japan has for its citizens and the love that world has towards the concept of peace. She instantly becomes the wife any living human being would exaggeratedly wish to have. No matter where Kaji is, she will always be with him, either physically or symbolically: in his memories and in his heart, whispering to the ears of his soul the constant motivational phrases she confessed him throughout their relationship. The amount of inspiration and strength she provides to Kaji despite the numerous goodbyes both had to say to each other is stinking. It may even cause and reveal a cathartic resemblance either to a single viewer of a whole nation. The performance of Tatsuya Nakadai is one to be remembered for ages to come. Before incarnating ruthless, cold-blooded and powerful samurais mainly in upcoming Masaki Kobayashi films, his presence irradiated a high dose of humanism from beginning to end. Thanks to the degree Nakadai gave life to Kaji, the film clearly states, through the direction of Kobayashi, that the worst enemy against a soldier is war itself and not the opposite side. The Soviet Union shows less cruelty and more scruples than the Japanese themselves. All of the soldiers and prisoners share the same hope and eagerly long for the same event to happen: that peace reigns once again, that the war is finally over, that the Germans surrender once and for all. The several characters he meets offer him a slice of sentiments and, although their appearance in upcoming chapters of the story is not really necessary, they slowly build a transforming soldier. From humanist to fighter, he is one of the most complete characters that could ever be seen in a film, not mainly because of the length of the story, but because of his novelistic transformation, like resembling the daily reflection a person should perform as a healthy habit. Masaki Kobayashi is the visionary mastermind behind this masterpiece and it is arguably the best Japanese film ever made, along with other giants of the country like Akira Kurosawa (<i>Rashômon</i> [1950], <i>Ikiru</i> [1952]), Kenji Mizoguchi (<i>Ugetsu Monogatari</i> [1953], <i>Sanshô Dayu</i> [1954]) and Yasujiro Ozu (<i>Tôkyô Monogatari</i> [1953], <i>Ukigusa</i> [1959]). It perfectly works as an anti-war statement and as a shattering drama based on war times. While there are several films being made nowadays that practically have nothing new to say about the horrors of WWII and the Holocaust, this fully-developed essay steps over so-called masterpieces and has all the right to be considered as a massive towering achievement in the history of Japanese cinema. Easily among the best 100 films ever made, <i>Ningen no Jôken</i>, whether it is considered as a 6-chapter miniseries, as an epic movie trilogy or as a giant mammoth drama that surpasses the nine-and-a-half-hour length, it is an anti-war experience and a study on fortitude that is meant to be remembered eternally by the human race. 100/100
    Edgar C Super Reviewer
  • Mar 01, 2008
    Drama for your mama, boy oh boy does the suffering ever stop! This movie begins where part II ends, Kaji has seen enough and his only goal is to make it out safe and be united with his wife Michiko. Is it better not to have someone waiting for you? It's what makes him go on, where other people give up. You can see Kaji is changed by what he has seen and been through, he's been defeated, and it breaks your heart. Although he's accompanied by other people, he's alone in the world. People become individuals in this movie. Everything Kaji stands for is crumbling to pieces, that strong sense of "humanity" and the things you can accomplish when you stick together don't fly in wartime, not when your first priority is to stay alive. What can I say to convince you to go see this nine hour long trilogy? It stays in your head, and when you've turned your tv off, it keeps on getting better and better. If you're a fan of Tatsuya Nakadai: you won't be disappointed. Shit man, I can't wait to see it again, but I'll save it for later :)
    Saskia D Super Reviewer

Ningen no jôken (Human Condition III - A Soldier's Prayer) Quotes

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