(aka "The Human Condition" or "Ningen no j˘ken")

 

directed by Masaki Kobayashi
Japan  1959 - 1961


Masaki Kobayashi’s mammoth humanist drama is one of the most staggering achievements of Japanese cinema. Originally filmed and released in three parts, the nine-and-a-half-hour
The Human Condition (Ningen no joken), adapted from Junpei Gomikawa’s six-volume novel, tells of the journey of the well-intentioned yet naive Kaji (handsome Japanese superstar Tatsuya Nakadai) from labor camp supervisor to Imperial Army soldier to Soviet POW. Constantly trying to rise above a corrupt system, Kaji time and again finds his morals an impediment rather than an advantage. A raw indictment of its nation’s wartime mentality as well as a personal existential tragedy, Kobayashi’s riveting, gorgeously filmed epic is novelistic cinema at its best.

Theatrical Release: January 15th, 1959

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DVD Comparisons: 

Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC

Title

Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC LEFT vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC RIGHT

Human Condition I - No Greater Love

DVD Box Cover

Distribution Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC

Criterion Collection - Spine # 480

Region 1 - NTSC

Runtime 3:25:13 3:26:16
Video

2.20:1 Letterbox Widescreen
Average Bitrate: 5.9 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

2.35:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 4.92 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Image Entertainment

Bitrate

Criterion

Audio Japanese (2.0 Dolby Digital) Japanese (1.0 Dolby Digital)
Subtitles English (burned in) English and None
Features Release Information:
Studio: Image Entertainment

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 2.20:1

Edition Details:  

• None


DVD Release Date: June 22nd, 1999

Snapper Case
Chapters: 17 
 

Release Information:
Studio: Criterion

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 2.35:1

Edition Details:
• Excerpt from a rare Directors Guild of Japan video interview with director Masaki Kobayashi, conducted by filmmaker Masahiro Shinoda (Double Suicide) (13:42)
• New video interview with actor Tatsuya Nakadai (17:40)
• Video appreciation of Kobayashi and The Human Condition featuring Shinoda (24:39)
• 3 Japanese theatrical trailers
• 12-page liner notes booklet featuring an essay by critic Philip Kemp


DVD Release Date: September 8th, 2009
Custom case (see above)

Chapters 34

 

Comments I probably shouldn't have take up as much time on this superfluous comparison but the original Image Entertainment DVDs were a very important part of my early collection despite their obvious weaknesses. They allowed me to see this masterpiece almost 10-years ago and it dramatically affected the direction of my film viewing selections. This dynamically altered the way in which I looked at, and appreciated, cinema. I still consider that initial viewing one of the most important of my life.

NOTE: We will discuss the transfers based on the three 'parts' on three DVDs rather than '6-parts' as it is sometimes referred.

ON THE IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT DVDS: The dual-layered, region FREE, Image Entertainment discs are fraught with undesirable qualities. The original 2.35:1 aspect ratios are compromised on all three. They also have a tendency to appear vertically stretched. The English subtitles, which have some infrequent typos, are burned-in. Compared to the Criterion translations the 1999 DVD subtitles contain some paraphrasing. The film information exists in a letterboxed-widescreen transfer and is positioned much higher in the 1.33 DVD frame with the subs shown on the lower matte. None of the three are anamorphic nor are any progressively transferred. All three display combing artifacts but the last 2 DVDs exhibit this interlacing weakness quite heavily. The third segment, often referred to as A Soldier's Prayer, on the Image Entertainment DVD is either missing 4.5 minutes or partially taken from a PAL source. The transfers don't appear to have any restoration and have frequent speckles, dirt, and damage marks. The Image discs have been offered for ridiculous prices in online auctions and even 3rd party sellers at Amazon going for a high as $100 per disc.

The Criterion DVDs: The Criterion package consists of 4 discs - 3 dual-layered DVDs containing the films and a single-layered 4th disc housing some supplements. There is also a 12-page liner notes booklet featuring an essay by critic Philip Kemp. The high-definition digital transfers were created from new 35mm prints struck from the original negatives. Each are presented in the original 2.35 aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced and progressively transferred. It's apparent that some digital restoration has occurred as contrast levels swing more prominently than usual for a Criterion release. The new issue is often brighter, as well as more detailed. Many sections make the Image Entertainment transfers appear cropped usually on top and side edges. In short - the Criterion DVDs look great. These are still SD-DVDs and noise invariably exists. There is some contrast flickering (usually more in the beginning of the film sections) and repaired damage leaves the previous imperfections barely evident.  A Soldier's Prayer seems to have been the most problematic running marginally less smoothly than the other 2. Truly, I envy people who get to see The Human Condition for the first time, with this Criterion set, looking remarkably better than I did with the Image discs. It's quite a huge difference - almost a whole new viewing experience. Telecine supervisors Lee Kline and Russell Smith appear to have overcome a lot in creating these transfers that are probably less recognizable from sources used from decade old DVDs. This is a remarkable, and at times draining, achievement in film and we should be thankful for their Criterion package. The new transfers are imperfect but are still a cinephile dream come true.    

AUDIO: Sound quality goes the way of Criterion. The Image discs were, expectantly filled with weak 2.0 channel audio rife with pops, hiss and inconsistencies. For the first 2 DVDs - the Criterion have monaural audio which is fiat but clear and consistent being remastered at 24-bits from the 35mm optical soundtrack print. Part 5-6 on the third DVD have original an 4.0 channel audio track which explains its more buoyant sound. The Criterion obviously have optional English subtitles.

 

There are some liner notes by Bruce Eder on the back cover of the snapper case on the Image Entertainment DVDs. There are no digital supplements whatsoever on the three 1999 discs.

Supplements on the Criterion: The film is far too long (9.5 hours in total) for a full-length commentary to be viable. The 6 parts of The Human Condition - on the three dual-layered DVDs don't share the feature's disc space with any supplemental information. The 4th disc of the package though has three sections all in Japanese with optional English subtitles. Under 'Masaki Kobayashi' there is a 14-minute excerpt from a rare 1993 Directors Guild of Japan video interview with the director conducted by longtime Kobayashi admirer filmmaker Masahiro Shinoda (Double Suicide). It was conducted at Tokyo's Haiyuza Theater. Following the menu item for 'Tatsuya Nakadai' - we get an 18-minute, 2009, video interview with actor Tatsuya Nakadai who discusses his landmark role as Kaji in The Human Condition. Under the 'Masahiro Shinoda' tab we get a 25-minute 'video appreciation', from 2009, of Kobayashi and The Human Condition by filmmaker Shinoda who shares his observations on The Human Condition and director Masaki Kobayashi. Also included digitally are 3 Japanese theatrical trailers. Finally there is a 12-page liner notes booklet featuring an essay by critic Philip Kemp.

My words are wholly inefficient to express the enormous value of this film. This Criterion package should receive extensive votes for best DVD release at our year end poll. It remains one of the most impressive films I've ever seen and, if I said it before, then I must have been mistaken - this is the easiest recommendation of the year.  

Gary Tooze

 


DVD Menus

 

Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC LEFT vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC RIGHT
 

 

 


Screen Captures

 

Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC BOTTOM

 

NOTE: The Image Entertainment DVD image was not trimmed in the below capture in order to indicate the high positioning of the picture information in the 1.33 DVD frame.

 

 


Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC BOTTOM

 

 

 

 


 

Human Condition II - The Road to Eternity

Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC LEFT vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC RIGHT

DVD Box Cover

Distribution Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC

Criterion Collection - Spine # 480

Region 1 - NTSC

Runtime 2:56:48 2:57:48
Video

2.20:1 Letterbox Widescreen
Average Bitrate: 5.87 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

2.35:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 5.36 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Image Entertainment

Bitrate

Criterion

Audio Japanese (2.0 Dolby Digital) Japanese (1.0 Dolby Digital)
Subtitles English (burned in) English and None
Features Release Information:
Studio: Image Entertainment

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 2.20:1

Edition Details:  

• None


DVD Release Date: June 22nd, 1999

Snapper Case
Chapters: 17 
 

Release Information:
Studio: Criterion

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 2.35:1

Edition Details:
• Excerpt from a rare Directors Guild of Japan video interview with director Masaki Kobayashi, conducted by filmmaker Masahiro Shinoda (Double Suicide) (13:42)
• New video interview with actor Tatsuya Nakadai (17:40)
• Video appreciation of Kobayashi and The Human Condition featuring Shinoda (24:39)
• 3 Japanese theatrical trailers
• 12-page liner notes booklet featuring an essay by critic Philip Kemp


DVD Release Date: September 8th, 2009
Custom case (see above)

Chapters 34

 

 



DVD Menus

 

Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC LEFT vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC RIGHT
 

 

 


Screen Captures

 

Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC BOTTOM

 

 

 

 

Human Condition III - A Soldier's Prayer

Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC LEFT vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC RIGHT

DVD Box Cover

Distribution Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC

Criterion Collection - Spine # 480

Region 1 - NTSC

Runtime 3:05:54 3:10:12
Video

2.30:1 Letterbox Widescreen
Average Bitrate: 5.64 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

2.35:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 5.36 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Image Entertainment

Bitrate

Criterion

Audio Japanese (2.0 Dolby Digital) Japanese (4.0 Dolby Digital)
Subtitles English (burned in) English and None
Features Release Information:
Studio: Image Entertainment

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 2.30:1

Edition Details:  

• None


DVD Release Date: June 22nd, 1999

Snapper Case
Chapters: 22 
 

Release Information:
Studio: Criterion

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 2.35:1

Edition Details:
• Excerpt from a rare Directors Guild of Japan video interview with director Masaki Kobayashi, conducted by filmmaker Masahiro Shinoda (Double Suicide) (13:42)
• New video interview with actor Tatsuya Nakadai (17:40)
• Video appreciation of Kobayashi and The Human Condition featuring Shinoda (24:39)
• 3 Japanese theatrical trailers
• 12-page liner notes booklet featuring an essay by critic Philip Kemp


DVD Release Date: September 8th, 2009
Custom case (see above)

Chapters 34

 

 



DVD Menus

 

Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC LEFT vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC RIGHT
 

 

 


Screen Captures

 

Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


Image Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Criterion (4-disc) - Region 1- NTSC BOTTOM

 

 

 

Criterion 4TH Disc
 

 

Report Card:

 

Image:

Criterion

Sound:

Criterion

Extras: Criterion

Criterion Collection - Spine # 480

Region 1 - NTSC



 

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