Criterion Collection wrote:
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.
SYNOPSIS OF PART 1
Hal Erickson on All Movie Guide wrote:
Originally titled Ningen No Joken, No Greater Love is the first of Japanese filmmaker Masaki Kobayashi’s Human Condition trilogy. Drawing from his own experiences, Kobayashi weaves the tale of a Japanese pacifist, trying to get by as best he can during World War II. Tatsuya Nakadai plays the leading role of a mine supervisor, whose kindly treatment of POW laborers incurs the wrath of his superiors. As the war in the Pacific rages on, Japan begins suffering heavy losses and military humiliations, yet still Nakadai adheres to his principles. Ultimately overwhelmed by events, Nakadai is horribly mistreated by the powers-that-be, then ordered to don a uniform and fight for his country.