Ningen no j˘ken (Human Condition: Road to Eternity) (1959)
2nd part of the trilogy The Human Condition about a pacifist socialist trying to survive in Fascist Japan
Kaji is now going through basic training in the Japanese army. It is 32 degrees below zero and snow is everywhere. PFC Bannai goes into the barracks where Kaji is. He tells the recruits to fall in. When there are two lines of men standing at attention Bannai goes down the lines slapping every recruit. He asks the recruits if they know why he slapped them all? Because he discovered a partly burned cigarette in the water tank. The water tank is not an ashtray, he says.
Bannai now demands to know who was on guard duty? It was Obarra. Bannai now slaps Obarra again. Kaji speaks out in defense of Obarra to show that he was not guilty of neglect. This gets Kaji in trouble with the platoon leader who asks: "Kaji, you dare talk back to PFC Bannai?" He slaps Kaji for his insubordination.
At rifle practice, Obarra is absolutely terrible. The sergeant has the marksman Kaji show Obarra that he can at least hit the target even with his eyes closed. Kaji gets in position, closes his eyes and shoots. He hits the target, so the sergeant tells Obarra that his bad eyesight is no excuse for missing the entire target.
Michiko writes to the head of her husband's unit. Kaji is really doing well in basic training and is considered the best of his class. The problem is that he is still under suspicion. He has been blacklisted by the Kenpeitai (the military police), along with Shinjo. The general feeling is that the unit can't afford to have a Red leading the outfit.
While cleaning and reassembling rifles, Obarra screws up another fellow's rifle. The guy starts slapping Obarra around. Kaji intervenes to protect Obarra. The fellow says that everyone knows that Kaji is a Red, just like Shinjo.
Obarra is being picked on. He gets all the worst duties. Today he has to clean latrines. Kaji and Tanoue volunteer to help him. In the latrine, Obarra says they are going to transfer somebody to another unit. He doesn't know who it is. Back in the barracks, Obarra gets harassed again. The platoon leader and those close to him start hitting and kicking him.
Michiko arrives at the training center. The commander of the unit sends for Kaji. He tells him that women are not supposed to come to the training center, but they are going to give him a break. They give him permission to stay overnight with his wife in the company storeroom. Kaji runs to see his wife. After a slow introduction, the two finally hug. Recruit Sasa comes in to bring the couple their dinner.
Lights out is sounded by the bugler. Kaji tells Michiko that he may desert and go across the border into China. Michiko doesn't like hearing this. She tells him that he simply can't run away, at least as long as he has her. Kaji thinks about it and then says: "I won't run away." Michiko is relieved to hear this. She tells her husband: "Come back to me." She says she has a feeling that they let Kaji see her, because they will soon be sending him to the front.
Kaji asks his wife for a favor. He asks her to get completely undressed and stand over by the window. He says: "I want to burn that image into my head." Standing by the window she drops her robe. She starts crying, saying: "I have nothing to offer you." A little later the bugler sounds reveille.
Kaji, dressed in heavy fencing clothing, practices bayonet fighting with carved wooden rifles. He is not doing well and gets criticized for not putting his best into it. After the criticism he does better. Michiko is still there. Kaji returns as she is leaving the storeroom. He tells her that he can't see her off because his unit is going on maneuvers. He thanks her for coming. He says he doesn't want to say goodbye and runs away.
Obarra gets berated again. He had to write a will type of letter to his wife. The officers read his letter and didn't like it at all. He spoke of possibly having a problem in combat with facing death. Obarra is made to run back and forth on the field by Warrant Officer Hino.
Just before graduation the recruits are given a real challenge. In full pack they have to go on a long march, some of it uphill. All the men are tired, but Obarra is tired to the point of complete exhaustion. Kaji carries some of Obarra's gear, including his rifle. But Obarra is still not going to make it. It drops to the ground again, but this time stays there even after Kaji tells him to show some guts for once. Kaji finally tells Obarra that he is a quitter and that he (Kaji) is going to go on to finish the march.
Obarra goes back to the barracks laying on a cart pulled by a horse. With him there are two other men, walking at this point, who also failed to complete the march. Platoon leader Yoshida says that anyone who rides back on a cart isn't a man! Yoshida and others slap and kick Obarra around. Then Yoshida makes Obarra an object of humiliation and derision by making him pretend to be a woman whore trying to get men to have sex with her. Obarra complies. Yoshida deliberately steps on Obarra's glasses, breaking them. He is kicked around again. Kaji is there watching all this, but never gets up or even says anything to stop the abuse of Obarra.
Obarra is then placed on guard duty with the other two men failing to complete the march. On guard duty, Obarra gets a rifle and puts a cartridge he had hidden in it. He goes to the latrine and places a stick inside the trigger guard, while the other end is placed on the guard. He places the rifle barrel under his chin and pushes the stick downward. The rifle does not go off. Obarra adjusts the stick and tries again, but the rifle remains silent. Obarra then says to himself maybe this is a sign that he is not supposed to kill himself. So he starts to stand up to leave, but now the rifle fires, killing Obarra.
Everyone in the platoon is now punished because of the suicide. The recruits are told that they are partly at fault for the death of Obarra. They are all rotten and, therefore, they all receive punishment.
Kaji goes in to see one of the officers. He demands that PFC Yoshida be punished. The officer is shocked that Kaji would use the phrase "I demand". Among Kaji's complaints is that Yoshida forced Obarra to mimic a common whore. Kaji adds if the higher-ups don't do anything, then he will. He tells the officer to tell Yoshida to watch out for Kaji.
Obarra's wife is in with the officers and Kaji. She has the ashes of her husband in a box. She says to Kaji: "So, you're implying that I indirectly caused my husband's death?" Kaji says: "A part of Obarra died due to your feuding with your mother-in-law. Another part died when I deserted him."
Later Kaji is called before the commander. He accuses Kaji of wanting revenge on Yoshida for personal reasons. The commander, Hino and another officer are mad at the "informer" and not at Yoshida. The commander says that nobody likes an informer and that by informing Kaji is undermining "our finest military traditions". Kaji is encouraged to say what was the cause of the suicide. Kaji says that the basic cause is the military itself. Now their anger turns to rage against Kaji. He is told that personal feuds are forbidden.
Alone with Hino, the commander tells the warrant officer to put Kaji high up on the promotion list. He says a few years and promotion will eventually soften Kaji's defiance and he will make a fine soldier. The commander says anyway now Kaji won't be a big problem because they are moving up to the border with China.
There is not a lot to do at the border. The men have a lot of guard duty. Kaji speaks to Shinjo, who is planning to cross over the border into China. Kaji says that he can't leave his country. He comments: "I couldn't do it."
Back at the training area, Hino telephones with the message to send Kaji back to them for the intramural shooting match taking place in two days. Hino then tells the commander that Kaji and Shinjo were seen talking together. He thinks that they are probably talking about deserting the army.
One night Shinjo is on guard duty together with a fellow named Bannai. Bannai sees a signal flare go up into the sky. He says they are going to find out where the signal came from to make some extra points with the top brass. He grabs Shinjo and they both run to find out where the flare came from. They discover a cabin. Bannai shoots in the direction of the cabin. He then leads Shinjo over to and into the small cabin. There are four people inside. Bannai thinks that the young fellow was the one who shot off the flare. He knocks the young man around. Shinjo, however, believes they shouldn't do anything to the fellow because they are not sure he is the guilty one. Bannai tells Shinjo that it doesn't matter: "We'll make him the culprit." Now Bannai accosts the young woman in the cabin. It looks like he intends to rape the woman. The young fellow uses this opportunity to run out of the cabin. Shinjo does nothing to stop the guy. Bannai goes after the escapee and shoots him in the back.
Back in the barracks with three other guys, Kaji gets another letter from his wife, the third letter in three weeks. One of the other soldiers is jealous. Yoshida comes in asking for five guys to work in the storeroom. Kaji slowly starts to boil with anger. He tells Yoshida if Obarra was here, he would have made the fifth "volunteer" for duty. But Obarra is dead. Kaji then gets a belt to strike Yoshida with it. Yoshida starts slowly backing up, afraid of what Kaji is going to do to him. Just then another soldier shows up. Kaji stops his approach to Yoshida. The other soldier gives them the news that Shinjo has been arrested, accused of letting a spy escape.
Warrant Officer Hinto beats up Shinjo. He then tells Shinjo that he will get a lighter sentence because Bannai shot the spy. The discussion is stopped with the report of a prairie fire. Everyone starts rushing out with trees branches to try and put out the fire. As they fight the fire, Shinjo takes advantage of the smoke to try to make it to the border. Kaji and Yoshida run after Shinjo. The ground is very wet with lots of small bodies of water. Everyone has to jump between spots of ground to avoid falling into the water. Yoshida, however, falls into one of the water holes and can't get out of the mud at the bottom of the hole. He yells at Kaji to help him. Kaji says he will get Yoshida out, but he must admit to the commanding officer that he made Obarra commit suicide. In the process of getting Yoshida out and up on his feet on a spot of ground, both men fall in. Kaji pulls Yoshida who is completely exhausted up and onto a spot of ground.
Kaji wakes up in the hospital and sees a very pretty nurse, Nurse Tokunaga, looking at him. She tells Kaji that he is a lucky man. The other fellow didn't make it. Yoshida died. A corporal starts slapping a patient around for trying to swallow something that would make him ill in order to get out of the army. Private Tange tells him to stop it. There should be quiet in a hospital, he says. The corporal is really angry at the private, and says: ". . . we'll see who has the last laugh". The corporal leaves. Tange looks around the room and sees Kanji smiling at him. Naturally, the two rebels get along with each other. Tange says he's been in the army for three years now and he is still a private.
Tange and Kaji get really close. They scrub the floors of the hospital and talk. The news they talk about is of Roosevelt talking to Stalin in Russia. Tange says that if Germany surrenders, that leaves only Japan. Nurse Tokunaga talks with Kaji. She tells him that Pvt. Tange is being sent back to his unit tomorrow. She also tells Kaji that his own unit has been ordered to the front. But she thinks he will probably stay here on hospital duty.
Nurse Tokunaga is in the laundry room talking with Kaji. The nasty head nurse comes in and asks her nurse: "Why did you leave your post?" She says Tokunaga left her post to have a rendezvous in broad daylight with Kaji. Kaji speaks up saying there has been no misconduct between them. The head nurse tells the young nurse to get back to her post. Now she turns on Kaji, saying that since he does not work for her, she will report him to his superiors.
Kaji is sent back to his unit. He apologizes to Nurse Tokunaga for getting her sent to the front also. They both hope that perhaps they will meet again. Nurse Tokunaga gets into her truck and the truck takes off.
Second Lt. Kageyama is taking over the training of the unit now. Kaji is on guard duty. Kageyama comes out to talk with him. They hear a big celebration across the way and Kageyama speculates that Germany must have surrendered. Kageyama tells Kaji that they are getting a bunch of new recruits in and he wants Kaji to help him with the training. The ages of the recruits vary from 20 years to 44 years old. Kaji at first says he does not want to help the 2nd Lt. Kageyama goes on to say he has already written down that Kaji will be helping him with the rifle training. The officer says he will make sure that Kaji gets promoted to a PFC. Kaji responds that he will agree to help him, if he allows radical changes in the squad compositions. He wants to separate the recruits from the veterans soldiers. Many of the new untrained recruits are in their 40s and especially rough treatment in the barracks would make it hard for them to learn anything.
Kaji talks about his ideas to others involved in the training process. He tells them that he will work the recruits hard during the day, but will treat them with kindness in the barracks. The veterans really don't like the idea. One asks Kaji: "What would a two year man like you know?" The vets tell Kaji that he has to treat the recruits hard. They start abusing Kaji, telling him that this is what he gets for slighting the veterans. After all, they say, it will be the vets who will be the ones to save the recruits when the time comes. One vet pushes a slipper into Kaji's mouth. Someone shouts that the Lieutenant is coming! The vets quickly turn out the lights and jump into their bunks. Kageyama pulls the slipper out of Kaji's mouth. He then tells the veterans that he will overlook this, but just this once.
Kaji speaks kindly to his recruits. He also gives them some friendly advice. A veteran sees a loose button on the uniform of recruit Koizumi, berates him about it and then rips it off and won't give the recruit back his button. Koizumi goes to Kaji to ask him what to do. Kaji tells the recruit that he will have to go to the veterans and get the button back. And he must be prepared for a beating. Koizumi goes to face the veterans and does get a beating for his trouble.
Not having enough sick fun, the vets now turn their cruelty on Kaji. They tell him that the recruits will have to get more rations from the kitchen to bring to the vets for Kaji's poor training of his recruits. So Kaji tells his recruits to give up their meat, put it in a bucket and it will be taken over to the vets.
One day a weak, an older recruit named Enji gets slapped around by a veteran. Kaji comes out to protect his recruit from the veteran and the vet switches his hate to Kaji. He demands that Kaji hit Enji. Kaji refuses, so he gets badly beaten. Kaji then goes in to see the lieutenant. He says: "I want an order forbidding all corporal punishment of recruits." Kageyama changes the topic by telling Kaji that he has received a letter from Michiko. She has asked him to watch over Kaji. And she wants to know why hasn't Kaji been writing her more letters? Kaji doesn't answer the question. Instead he tells the lieutenant that when he writes back to Michiko tell her that Kaji won't die no matter what happens.
Okinawa has fallen to the Americans. This is a blow to Japanese pride. Kageyama thinks that Japan will lose the war. 2nd Lt. Nonaka comes over to challenge Kageyama. He doesn't like Kageyama thinking that the dead Japanese soldiers died in vain. Kageyama says all he knows is that the Japanese are taking a beating. Another officer calls Kageyama a pessimist. Kageyama says he does know something. He knows that he is going to die here. And, he says to 2nd Lt. Nonaka: "So will you."
An older recruit named Naruto fails to salute an officer, so Kaji's entire unit, including Kaji, are punished. The whole unit has to stay in a push-up stance. Naruto keeps saying that the fault was all his and he alone should be punished. The older recruit Enji can't keep holding this stance. He goes down and gets yelled at. Naruto now becomes so mad that he goes crazy. He grabs a pole from the man watching over the men and runs over to attack two NCOs. It takes the two NCOs to subdue Naruto. Naruto struggles with the two men as he balls them out. He says the NCOs have never had to earn a real living. Kaji comes in and subdues Naruto. Naruto is put in jail for three days. At the end of the sentence Kaji comes to take Naruto back to his unit. With the other recruits, Naruto is their hero. They all gather around him to hear his story about what happened to him.
For the incident the vets start slapping Kaji around again. A vet named Akabashi uses a bayonet pole to attack Kaji and really messes up Kaji's face. So now Kaji grabs a real bayonet and openly dares Akabashi to do that again. He shouts at the vets: "Filthy braggarts!" At this point others intervene by grabbing Kaji and taking him away.
Back in the barracks with his recruits, Naruto tells Kaji that next time he and Tashiro will help him with the veterans. Kaji tells Naruto that their enemy is not the veterans, but the army itself. Roll call is called. The guys tell Kaji to stay put, but Kaji says he wants Lt Kageyama to see his swollen face. Kaji learns that he and 28 recruits are to be put on trench-digging detail. It will last for a month. Kaji goes in to see Kageyama and tells him: "This is a cowardly trick to avoid confrontation between me and the vets." Kageyama only says that when Kaji returns, he will be going for special training. In fact, he will be going to southern Manchuria, where he may even be close to Michiko.
Kaji and his recruits move out. They are relatively on their own where they are digging the trenches. Water is brought to them and the men welcome the liquid. All of a sudden all the various work parties are called together. The officer says to all of them: "At dawn today, our Seiundai fortifications were attacked by heavy Soviet forces. It seems that Major Ushijima and all his men died a glorious death." Worse news is that the Russians are advancing along the entire Manchurian border. The men will return to their barracks and from there will be sent to new places to build new defenses.
The guys set up their tents and shortly after they settle in, they have to prepare to move out. They have no rifles, so they are told to put their bayonets on the end of birch poles for close-in combat. Some survivors from combat come into the area and sit down. They tell the recruits that they got wiped out. Lt. Kageyama was killed.
Terada, the son of a major, as usual is critical of Kaji because he thinks he is anti-war. Kaji lets him get it off his chest, but then calls Terada a fool. He's good for being so gung-ho about a lost cause for the Japanese. Kaji is sent out with a scouting squad to locate the Russian's positions. Kaji goes out with two recruits. He returns to report that he saw fifteen tanks. But neither of the recruits can confirm it because Kaji left them behind a hill. The officer calls Kaji a coward for not getting close enough to the Russian position so that he could confirm his own report.
The men are now placed in fox holes in an open field. One of the recruits says they are like condemned men waiting for the execution sentence to be carried out. An older recruit says that his foxhole lies right on a grave. He wants another recruit to exchange foxholes. One of the young guys says he will switch with the man, but Kaji says no. The man will just have to stay in his own foxhole.
In the morning Kaji tells his troops that the end has come. They must remember two things. First, don't be a coward. And second, never give up! He says this is not so much for Japan, but for their own sense of self-pride. A Japanese soldier comes running up from the direction the Russians will be approaching, shouting: "They're coming!" Everyone is told: "Prepare for action!" On the horizon appears a long line of Soviet tanks! The only things the Japanese can respond with are a few mortars.
The Japanese open fire on the Russian troops following behind or by the side of the Soviet tanks. Kaji shoots and a Russian soldier goes down. Kaji's foxhole gets nearly filled up with the dirt kicked up by a tank shell explosion. Someone shouts that Russian troops are also to their rear. The tanks go right over Kaji's and Terada's position. All is quiet for awhile. One of the Japanese soldiers starts shouting and Kaji tells him to shut up or he will draw attention to their position. The guy doesn't shut up so Kaji has to go after him. He struggles with the guy and puts his hands around his neck to shut him up. He presses too hard and too long and ends up killing the man. This surprises and upsets Kaji who says partly in dismay: "I killed him."
Now Kaji starts going nuts a bit. He walks around shouting the question: "Is anyone still alive? Is anyone still alive?"
This second part of the trilogy is much more interesting than the first part. Now we see Kaji in the Japanese army. And he is still speaking out against ill treatment, this time, of the recruits. His superiors are not pleased with him because he is always speaking out. He tries to get all corporal punishment of the recruits forbidden. This is fueled by the death of his friend Pvt. Obarra, who was a poor soldier and always received excessive punishments, including bad physical punishment. The one thing Kaji succeeds in doing is getting vets taken out of the barracks of the recruits. The vets are too apt to become cruel and sadistic toward the recruits and this makes the recruit's learning lag behind what it should be. He persevered to get this chanhe, even though he received a lot of beatings from the vets. Though successful, his boss 2nd Lt. Kageyama is still going to have him sent back to Manchuria where he will receive special training.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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