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After their defeat at the hands of the Russians right at the conclusion of Part II, Kaji and a small group of survivors battle through enemy territory as they try to make their way down south and back to their former lives. 160 men from his platoon are dead. Coming across a bunch of Japanese refugees, they struggle to find food and shelter in some dense woods, all the while trying to hide from the enemy. A small group from various other defeated Japanese army units they come across are adamant that they’ll make a final stand even with depleted supplies but Kaji refuses to join them. Kaji is convinced that the Red army is unlike the Japanese army – they look after and treat their prisoners well. Even after a body of a Japanese woman is dumped on a road by a passing Russian army truck with her usefulness to the Russian soldiers having come to an end isn’t enough to make Kaji change his mind. He thinks this is just an isolated incident. After numerous skirmishes and narrow escapes, the 15 strong soldier group led by Kaji happen by chance to see a village. There they find that the village is full of women. The men take the opportunity to have some intimate moments with the women except for Kaji. He will not cheat on his wife. Some of the men want to stay on at the village and Kaji doesn’t object to the idea. He will carry on in his journey to reunite with his wife but that plan is scuppered when a passing Russian patrol appears. The group is all set to attack them when one of the women villagers betrays them. This is her payback as Kaji rejected her advances. Kaji thinks this is the perfect time for them to surrender and this he does with the rest following suit. Shipped off to a POW camp, Kaji comes across an old enemy of his who wants revenge. He makes life tough for Kaji. Finding that nothing is any different in the Russian side than it is in a Japanese POW camp, Kaji is set to break out on his own but not before he has settled an old score. Will Kaji manage to escape sucessfully and finally reunite with his wife Michiko?

The last part of this extraordinary trilogy is probably the best movie out of them all. I expected a happy conclusion of sorts but I was wrong. Instead it gives a gut wrenching finale that doesn’t give you the heart warming feeling that you thought you might be getting. I was hoping that Kaji’s torment would end with him back in the arms of his trusted wife but we are denied that happy ending. The story comes full circle as he finds himself entrenched in the very network of activity that he tried so desperately to both avoid and restructure, while enduring the same labours as the Chinese men he fought so bravely for in the first movie. His socialist philosophy is finally broken when he realizes that Stalinist Russia is NOT a friend to the people. At the climax Kaji is but a mere shell of a man – shuffling through the snowy landscape with the only thing making him go on is the thought of seeing his wife again. The viewer has become so attached to him and his struggle, that we begin to feel similarly, and as a result we are left with one of the most moving endings ever. I won’t spoil anything, but any viewer will be floored by it. This is heartbreak cinema at its most crushing and honest.

The acting is inspiring by the entire cast but the whole trilogy has been all about the brilliant Tatsuya Nakadai as Kaji. Kaji is certainly a remarkable character throughout the epic trilogy and we’ve witnessed how he has changed considerably from the first movie when he was in charge of the mining plant. His growth as a leader, as a torn conscience, as a rejector of anything regarding duty and service to country just to survive, as a now somewhat accepted killer and finally as a lost soul unable to get back to his old life with Michiko. It’s an incredible transformation over the course of the trilogy that marks Kaji as one of the greatest cinema characters to come out of Japan.

One of the greatest anti-war trilogies you’ll ever see. Masaki Kobayashi has to be commended for his remarkable directing and compelling storyline. The cinematography for the trilogy has been so outstanding. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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The 2nd in the 9 hour epic Human Condition trilogy finds our anti-war hero Kaji having been shipped off for basic training in the Japanese army at a boot-camp where once again his views bring him into conflict with his superiors. Standing up against what he believes is too brutal a regime against rookie soldiers, he argues that the recruits should not have to be humiliated daily by superior officers. Obara, a weak rookie is subjected to a series of humiliating ordeals which leads to him committing suicide with a rifle. Kaji is determined to bring the officer who picked on Obara to justice but before he can do that, he is promoted up the ranks for being a disciplined soldier and an excellent sniper. He is given a new batch of recruits to mould them into shape and he treats them with dignity and respect but a group of grizzled veterans aren’t very happy that he isn’t bullying them so they take out their anger on him but Kaji refuses to fight back. With growing tensions inside the army camp thanks to Kaji, his superiors send him off along with 28 other men to Southern Manchuria to dig trenches with the advancing Russian army bearing down on them. Kaji and his men are ill prepared to face the Russians and their tanks. Will he manage to survive the encounter?

I actually enjoyed this much more than the first movie. A lot of the movie seems to be a criticism on the pointlessly brutal system where rookie soldiers were beaten up for no reason whatsoever by their immediate superiors. The officers did nothing to change this and Kaji still refuses to bend to this insane situation. Instead of focusing on teamwork and camaraderie which would help them in training, superior officers were only intent on destroying the weak. It’s quite a depressing but well made indictment on Japanese militaristic mentality during the era. Kaji’s ideas about the worth of the individual and the humanity of mankind is in direct opposition to the militarism of Japan at the time which gets him into a lot of trouble. He refuses to disregard his own principles and actually saves a few rookies from being severely beaten at boot-camp largely by taking the beatings himself. He thinks it’s better to earn their respect and loyalty with kindness, rather than brutality. There’s a poignant scene where Kaji’s wife comes to visit him and they get to spend one night together in a cold storeroom. Before saying goodbye the following morning, Kaji asks his wife to strip off as that’s the image he wants to remember her. Kaji doesn’t expect to come back alive from the front line.

There’s no drop in quality from the first movie – beautiful black and white cinematography, superb acting especially from Tatsuya Nakadai as Kaji and great directing by Masaki Kobayashi. The battlefield sequence at the end of the movie show the full horror of war and Kobayashi doesn’t shirk away from showing dismembered limbs, blown up bodies, and madness taking away men’s lives. Even though the movie lasts for 3 hours, it’s such an engrossing story that you never get bored watching it.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the trilogy ends. I hope that Kaji is reunited once more with his loyal wife Michiko – a source of strength to him.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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Set during the start of the Korean War, US Captain Neil Smith crash lands his plane in a remote part of Korea after being caught up in a mysterious butterfly storm. He is found by people from the small village of Dongmakgol where time has stood still. They have no idea their country is at war and they have no knowledge of modern technology and weapons. Not far from the village, a platoon of North Korean soldiers are massacred with a few barely escaping through a mountain pass. In a beautiful glade, they are found by a strange girl Yeo-il who they think is a little bit crazy. She leads them to Dongmakgol but find that their enemy is already there – 2 South Korean deserters who have found their way to the village. A stand-off ensues which lasts for a while. The villagers have no idea what both sets of soldiers are fighting about. The stand-off finishes when a grenade is dropped accidentally by a fatigued North Korean soldier but it does not explode. Thinking that it’s a dud, it is thrown away only for it to explode and destroy the village’s food store. Realising that their intrusion has caused the villagers to lose their food, both sets of soldiers plus Neil Smith start to help in the village and the tension between them begins to lessen. But there is trouble when Allied Commanders are about to launch a rescue mission for Captain Smith. Thinking he is in enemy hands and held at a secret base, they begin preparations to bomb the village placing the villagers in imminent danger. The soldiers devise a plan to create a decoy enemy base so that the bombs will be dropped far away from the village thus saving everybody but will their audacious plan work?

This is such a wonderful anti-war movie which is quite touching. I loved how a village full of innocent people could make 2 sets of soldiers forget about the war, set aside their differences and come together as human beings. The bonding between them and the villagers is delightful to watch and Yeo-il is quite an endearing character – she’s probably the main symbol of innocence in the movie and the way she acts reminds you of a child that hasn’t grown up. The harsh realities of war are forgotten and to see the soldiers do their best to protect what the village represents – a small utopia in a war zone is moving. It’s such an engaging movie that will make you laugh and cry. The blend of drama and comedy is perfect. The wild boar chase and the ‘popcorn’ falling from the sky after the village food store is destroyed will certainly make you smile.

Outstanding performances from the entire cast right from the main leads to the supporting roles. The characters especially the villagers are easy to identify with. As the soldiers begin to ‘shed’ their war-like identities to became a part of Dongmakgol you begin to like all of them. You cheer for them as they seek to protect the village from the bombing disaster that’s about to happen and shed some tears for the sacrifice they make for their village friends in a fitting and poignant climax. Excellent cinematography and a quite brilliant debut for director Park Kwang-Hyun. Hayao Miyazaki’s composer for his Ghibli movies – Joe Hisashi created a beuatiful and evocative soundtrack.

Welcome To Dongmakgol is one of the best Korean movies I’ve seen this year with a charming feel-good story that’s very heartwarming. You just cannot miss out on this if you’re an Asian movie fan. I enjoyed it immensely. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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City Of Life And Death (2010)

The movie takes place in 1937, during the height of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The Imperial Japanese Army invades the then-capital of the Republic of China, Nanjing. What followed was known as the Nanking Massacre, a period of several weeks wherein massive numbers of Chinese prisoners of war and civilians were killed.

A very powerful, harrowing and bleak movie depicting the atrocities that took place in Nanjing during the Japanese occupation of the city during WW2. It’s a documentary-like testimony to the cruelties of war. It holds nothing back. Superbly filmed in black and white, the camera seems to capturing events as they happen and the images that you witness in this movie will live with you long after the end credits has finished. It’s heartbreaking and upsetting. One such scene in particular is really gutwrenching: it’s where captured Chinese soldiers are led to a place where they will be executed, and just before getting mown down by machine guns the soldiers shout “Long live China” and “China will not die”. The movie will make you think long and hard how human beings can do such terrible to each other. As this is a Chinese production, you’re probably wondering if this just national propoganda as I’m fully aware that the Chinese people have never really forgiven the nation of Japan for what they did to them during the war. The wounds run deep and the hate for the Japanese especially among the elder population is very real. This isn’t a movie that takes sides at all. The story is told through the eyes and feelings of a few characters (Japanese and Chinese) thus giving us a point of view from the two sides. It was a good idea by the director to have a sympathetic Japanese soldier Kadokawa so that the viewer doesn’t just hate the lot of them. There is also no real character development to speak of, since most of these characters are just trying to stay sane or alive. If ever there was a movie to show us that war is hell then this is it thanks to writer-director Chuan Lu and cinematographer Yu Cao. Its as much anti-war as you can get. There is great horror shown from the normal horrors of warfare, to numerous and frequent graphic rapes, nastiness involving children and pretty much every kind of cruelty you can think of.

City Of Life Or Death is a masterpiece and a remarkable movie experience that everybody should see, telling us about a dark chapter in world history which will never be forgotten. It’s a difficult movie to watch, that there is no doubt but see this and be prepared to be moved. Outstanding.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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The Front Line (2011)

Towards the end of the Korean War, a South Korean battalion is fiercely battling over a hill on the front line border against the North in order to capture a strategic point (Aerok Hill) that would determine the new border between two nations. The ownership of this small patch of land swap numerous times over the course of the war. 1st Lieutenant Kang is dispatched to the front line to join a unit nicknamed Alligator Company by the Americans in order to investigate the rumours that a mole is passing information to the North and that their former captain has been killed in suspicious circumstances. But he gets spiraled into the war that’s more terrifying than death itself when he meets his friend Kim, who has transformed from a meek person into a war machine, along with his unit. As the countdown for ceasefire begins, both sides become more vicious, resulting in deaths of countless lives until the last man can claim the hill.

Unlike the epic war movie Brotherhood of War, The Front Line takes a different approach – concentrating instead on the futility of war itself. It’s not about heroics but about survival so we don’t get to see any war heroes but men deeply scarred by the conflict who just want to go home to their families. Used as pawns by their superiors in a back and forth battle for a useless piece of land which sees countless die. The movie doesn’t start out as a straight forward war movie though but as a mystery as we follow Kang in his mission by his superiors to track down a mole and a potential traitor in Alligator Company. Director Jang Hoon gives us a viewpoint from both sides in the war – one ingenious plot device is by the way of a drop box hidden inside a bunker in which the soldiers exchange letters and alcohol.

The characters (which most viewers will be familar with already from similar war movies) we encounter are all sympathetic to the viewer, showing their hopes and fears, questioning why they are fighting. As we near the end we see their joy as the armistice has been signed signalling the end of the war but that joy is shortlived when they are told the ceasefire will not take place until 12 hours later and their superiors demand one last battle out of them to capture Aerok Hill. You sort of sense that some of the characters will not survive this final skirmish. The battle scenes are spectacular and explosive putting us right in the thick of the action, showing the immense effort that Alligator Company have to give in order to capture Aerok Hill with the North soldiers dug in bunkers and mowing down the soldiers of the South with their machine guns. The sub-plot with the company coming under fire regularly from a female North sniper they nickname ‘Two Seconds’ was really good.

The Front Line suffers a bit with it’s long running time. Take away around 30 mins and the movie might have been better. The downtime between the battles I thought at times were fairly dull and padded out. Thankfully unlike other war movies there isn’t any melodrama here. The only real criticism I can give is there was just too much talking and not enough action for my liking. The cast give a really good account of themselves in their roles. Whilst I admire the director for trying to give us something a little bit different, I still rate Brotherhood of War as the ultimate Korean war movie I’ve seen.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Fires On The Plain (1959)

It is near the end of World War II and on the Phillipine island of Leyte, a group of starving and demoralised Japanese soldiers abandoned by their superiors are in retreat from the advancing American army. A young private in the Imperial Army called Tamura is in the final stages of tubercolosis. Ordered to go back to the hospital by the remnants of his unit, Tamura is given a grenade and told to kill himself if necessary. Turned away by the medics at the hospital, he joins up with other soldiers who wander the land looking desperately for any kind of food that’s available. Tamura is disturbed when he hears them say that they resorted to cannibalism in New Guinea. But will he do that if the situation arises?

This is a bleak and very depressing anti-war movie which shows the dehumanisation that can happen to men when their needs become desperate and they turn to eating other people. We’ve become used over the years to seeing gung-ho war movies which sees troops overcoming odds to triumph in some battle or another but this movies is completely the opposite and gives us a portrait of pathetic looking troops who are undersupplied, bedraggled and starving so much that they have no other alternative but to eat human meat. Director Kon Ichikawa shows us some truly horrific scenes such as a pile of bodies of Japanese soldiers outside a church being eaten by birds, a mad soldier eating his own shit and offering his arm to be eaten to Tamura and then near the climax we get to see a soldier with his face covered in blood feasting on a person that he just shot. Those gruesome images and more will be ingrained on your memory long after the end credits have finished. The movie is beautifully shot in striking black and white with excellent performances from the cast especially by Eiji Funakoshi as Tamura. The director is telling us in this movie that war is hellish when you’re on the losing side. He doesn’t try to make a hero out of the main character Tamura at all – he’s just a doomed soldier that’s trying to stay alive in a foreign land and hanging on to whatever humanity he’s got left in him.

Fires On The Plain is brutal, uncompromising and intense as any war movie you may have seen. There are some fleeting moments of black humour such as when a soldier finds a better pair of shoes on a corpse and takes them, the next soldier that comes along does the same and this goes on until Tamura sees that the ones on the ground are no better than his own (they have a gaping big hole in the sole) so he takes his shoes off and carries on barefoot. This movie won’t be for everyone. It is utterly depressing and fairly graphic for it’s time which caused a bit of a stir but it’s a fantastic movie if you’ve got the stomach for it.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Red Cliff (2008)

Red Cliff is an epic historical drama based on a legendary 208 A.D battle that heralded the end of the Han Dynasty. Power hungry Prime Minister-turned-General Cao Cao is seeking permission from the Han Dynasty Emperor to organize a southward-bound mission designed to crush two troublesome warlords that stand in his way, Liu Bei and Sun Quan. As the expedition gets under way, Cao Cao’s troops rain destruction on Liu Bei’s army, forcing the latter to retreat. Liu Bei’s military strategist Zhuge Liang knows that their only hope for survival is to form an alliance with rival warlord Sun Quan, and reaches out to Sun Quan’s trusted advisor, war hero Zhou Yu. The newly formed alliance make their last stand, where Cao Cao and his massive forces advance, seeking to crush all resistance in their path.

Outstanding war movie which is unlike most you may have watched in this genre. This is the largest movie ever made in China which had a budget of $80 million dollars. It went over budget and over schedule. Red Cliff was not scripted to just excite you with a war-mongering gorefest, it mesmerises you with military strategy too. The story develops to much more than just a battle of two dynasties, it engrosses you and you will enjoy it if you already love the genre. A compelling historical story by director John Woo with the highlight being the battle sequences which are absolutely amazing. He understands what it takes to make an epic movie and in Red Cliff he clicks all the right buttons. If you thought Hollywood did impressive battle scenes then you’ve aint seen nothing yet. They’re so intense with arrows, spears and swords flying here, there and everywhere. There’s tons of blood but it’s not shown just for gore’s sake.

The acting is flawless by all the cast led by Takeshi Kaneshiro, the cinematography is out of this world, the soundtrack is equisite, the costumes are beautiful to look at and the movie as a whole is just so damn good. This movie serves as a per­fect introduc­tion to all the char­ac­ters and the con­flict of the story. It sets every­one to be ready for the real Battle of Red Cliff in the sequel. As a movie that bal­ances both action and char­ac­ter devel­op­ment, Red Cliff is def­i­nitely one of the best Asian war movie of all times. I didn’t want this movie to end – that’s how much I enjoyed it. Red Cliff Part 2 will be reviewed soon.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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