Masaki Kobayashi was a Japanese film director known for his socially conscious and politically charged films.

His works are characterized by their humanism, realism, and unflinching portrayal of the human condition. Here are some of his best films:

“Harakiri” (1962) – This film is considered one of Kobayashi’s masterpieces. It tells the story of a ronin who seeks to commit ritual suicide in the courtyard of a powerful lord.

The film explores themes of honor, duty, and the oppressive nature of feudal society.

“The Human Condition” trilogy (1959-1961) – This epic trilogy follows the story of a young idealistic man who goes to work in Manchuria during the Second World War.

The films explore themes of morality, nationalism, and the complexities of war.

“Kwaidan” (1964) – This anthology film consists of four ghost stories based on traditional Japanese folk tales.

The film features stunning visuals and a haunting score that create an eerie and atmospheric tone.

Best Masaki Kobayashi Films

Masaki Kobayashi’s films are powerful, emotional, and thought-provoking. They are marked by their stunning visuals, rich characters, and exploration of complex themes.

They are essential viewing for anyone interested in Japanese cinema or the human condition.

1. The Human Condition III: A Soldier’s Prayer (1961)

“The Human Condition III: A Soldier’s Prayer” is a 1961 Japanese film directed by Masaki Kobayashi. It is the final part of a trilogy, following “No Greater Love” and “Road to Eternity.” Here is a brief synopsis of the film:

The film takes place towards the end of World War II and follows the story of Kaji (played by Tatsuya Nakadai), a Japanese soldier who is imprisoned by the Soviet Union.

Kaji has become disillusioned with the war and the brutal treatment of soldiers and prisoners, and his experiences in prison further reinforce his convictions.

As the war comes to an end, Kaji must come to terms with the horrors he has witnessed and the actions he has taken.

   

“The Human Condition III: A Soldier’s Prayer” is a powerful and thought-provoking film that explores themes such as war, humanity, and the struggle for justice and dignity.

The film’s visual style is stark and uncompromising, reflecting the bleakness and brutality of the war. The film also features a remarkable performance by Tatsuya Nakadai, whose portrayal of Kaji is both nuanced and powerful.

Overall, “The Human Condition III: A Soldier’s Prayer” is a powerful conclusion to the trilogy and a significant work of Japanese cinema.

Human Condition III - A Soldier's Prayer
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

2. The Human Condition II: Road to Eternity (1959)

“The Human Condition II: Road to Eternity” is a 1959 Japanese film directed by Masaki Kobayashi. It is the second installment in a trilogy of films that also includes “No Greater Love” and “A Soldier’s Prayer”.

The film is based on a six-volume novel by Junpei Gomikawa, and tells the story of a Japanese soldier named Kaji who is trying to survive during World War II.

In “Road to Eternity”, Kaji continues to struggle against the brutal conditions of the war, both on the front lines and behind the scenes.

As he witnesses the horrors of war and experiences firsthand the brutality of the Japanese military machine, Kaji is forced to confront his own beliefs and values, and to question the meaning and purpose of his own existence.

Overall, “The Human Condition II: Road to Eternity” is a powerful and thought-provoking film that explores the complexities of war and its impact on individuals and society.

It is widely regarded as a masterpiece of Japanese cinema, and continues to be studied and analyzed by film scholars and enthusiasts around the world.

Human Condition II - The Road to Eternity
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

3. The Human Condition I: No Greater Love (1959)

“The Human Condition II: Road to Eternity” is a 1959 Japanese film directed by Masaki Kobayashi. It is the second installment in a trilogy of films that also includes “No Greater Love” and “A Soldier’s Prayer”.

The film is based on a six-volume novel by Junpei Gomikawa, and tells the story of a Japanese soldier named Kaji who is trying to survive during World War II.

In “Road to Eternity”, Kaji continues to struggle against the brutal conditions of the war, both on the front lines and behind the scenes.

As he witnesses the horrors of war and experiences firsthand the brutality of the Japanese military machine, Kaji is forced to confront his own beliefs and values, and to question the meaning and purpose of his own existence.

Overall, “The Human Condition II: Road to Eternity” is a powerful and thought-provoking film that explores the complexities of war and its impact on individuals and society.

It is widely regarded as a masterpiece of Japanese cinema, and continues to be studied and analyzed by film scholars and enthusiasts around the world.

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Human Condition I - No Greater Love [DVD]
  • Tatsuya Nakadai, Michiyo Aratama, Chikage Awashima (Actors)
  • Masaki Kobayashi (Director) - Jumpei Gomikawa (Writer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

4. Harakiri (1962)

“Harakiri” is a 1962 Japanese film directed by Masaki Kobayashi. The film is set in the early 17th century, during a time of peace following a long period of war in Japan.

Here is a brief synopsis of the film:

The film follows the story of Hanshiro Tsugumo (played by Tatsuya Nakadai), a samurai who arrives at the house of a feudal lord and requests permission to perform harakiri (ritual suicide) in the courtyard.

The lord’s retainers are suspicious of Tsugumo’s motives and try to dissuade him from committing harakiri, but he is determined to go through with it.

   

As he prepares to perform the ritual, Tsugumo recounts the story of another samurai who had come to the same courtyard with the same request, but was denied and forced to commit a gruesome suicide.

“Harakiri” is a powerful and moving film that explores themes such as honor, duty, and social justice. The film’s visual style is stark and austere, with long takes and a deliberate pace that heighten the tension and emotional impact of the story.

Tatsuya Nakadai delivers a remarkable performance as Tsugumo, capturing the character’s depth and complexity.

Overall, “Harakiri” is a significant work of Japanese cinema and a testament to Kobayashi’s skill as a director.

Harakiri (English Subtitled)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Tatsuya Nakadai, Rentaro Mikuni, Akira Ishihama (Actors)
  • Masaki Kobayashi (Director) - Shinobu Hashimoto (Writer) - Tatsuo Hosoya (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)

5. Kwaidan (1964)

“Kwaidan” is a 1964 Japanese horror anthology film directed by Masaki Kobayashi.

It is based on a collection of supernatural stories by Lafcadio Hearn, an Irish-Greek writer who lived in Japan in the late 19th century and wrote extensively about Japanese folklore and ghost stories.

The film is comprised of four separate stories, each of which explores different themes and aspects of Japanese supernatural folklore.

The stories are “The Black Hair”, “The Woman of the Snow”, “Hoichi the Earless”, and “In a Cup of Tea”. Each story is visually stunning and meticulously crafted, with detailed sets, costumes, and makeup creating a haunting and otherworldly atmosphere.

The film is notable for its innovative use of sound and music, which contribute to the eerie and unsettling tone of the stories.

The film’s score, composed by Toru Takemitsu, features a mix of traditional Japanese instruments and avant-garde techniques, creating a unique and unsettling soundscape that heightens the tension and horror of the stories.

Overall, “Kwaidan” is a visually stunning and masterfully crafted film that captures the essence of Japanese supernatural folklore.

It is widely regarded as a classic of Japanese cinema and a landmark of the horror genre, and continues to influence and inspire filmmakers and horror enthusiasts around the world.

Kwaidan (The Criterion Collection)
  • Rentar Mikuni, Michiyo Aratama, Misako Watanabe (Actors)
  • Masaki Kobayashi (Director) - Lafcadio Hearn (Writer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

6. Samurai Rebellion (1967)

“Samurai Rebellion” is a 1967 film directed by Masaki Kobayashi. The film stars Toshiro Mifune as Isaburo Sasahara, a loyal samurai who is forced to take a stand against his own clan when his son’s wife is taken away and forced into a loveless marriage.

Isaburo and his son Saburo (played by Tatsuya Nakadai) rebel against the unjust actions of their lord, risking their lives in the process.

The film is known for its realistic and uncompromising portrayal of the samurai code and its examination of loyalty, honor, and family relationships.

It features powerful performances from Mifune and Nakadai, and beautiful cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa. “Samurai Rebellion” is widely regarded as one of Kobayashi’s greatest works and a classic of Japanese cinema.

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Samurai Rebellion (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
  • Samurai Rebellion (The Criterion Collection) - DVD Brand New
  • Toshir Mifune, Yko Tsukasa, Takeshi Kat (Actors)
  • Masaki Kobayashi (Director) - Shinobu Hashimoto (Writer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)

7. Black River (1957)

“Black River” is a 1957 film directed by Masaki Kobayashi. The film is a powerful drama set in post-World War II Japan, and deals with themes of disillusionment, betrayal, and moral decay. Here is a brief synopsis of the film:

The film follows the story of a group of Japanese soldiers who return to their small hometown after serving in the war.

The town has been devastated by the war, and the soldiers find it difficult to adjust to civilian life. They struggle to find work and to rebuild their lives, while also confronting the corruption and injustice of the society they have returned to.

One of the soldiers, Shinzo (played by Ineko Arima), becomes involved with a gang of smugglers who are trying to take advantage of the chaos in the town.

Shinzo becomes romantically involved with the gang’s leader, a woman named Kuroda (played by Michiyo Aratama), but their relationship is complicated by the fact that Shinzo is still in love with his former fiancée, who is now married to another man.

“Black River” is a beautifully crafted film, with stunning black and white cinematography and a powerful score. Kobayashi’s direction is masterful, and he captures the emotional turmoil and moral ambiguity of the characters with sensitivity and nuance.

The film is a powerful indictment of the social and political corruption of postwar Japan, and remains a significant work of Japanese cinema.

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Eclipse Series 38: Masaki Kobayashi Against the System (The Thick-Walled Room, I Will Buy You, Black River, The Inheritance) (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
  • Masaki Kobayashi, Keiko Kishi, Tatsuya Nakadai (Actors)
  • Masaki Kobayashi (Director)
  • Japanese, English (Subtitles)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

8. The Thick-Walled Room (1956)

“The Thick-Walled Room” is a 1956 Japanese film directed by Masaki Kobayashi. The film is based on a true story and depicts the inhumane treatment of political prisoners in Japan during the post-war period. Here is a brief synopsis of the film:

The film follows the story of four political prisoners who are being held in a prison cell in Japan in the years following World War II.

The prisoners are subjected to a range of physical and psychological tortures, including sleep deprivation, food deprivation, and extreme heat.

They are forced to sit in silence for hours on end, and are beaten if they fall asleep or make any noise.

The prisoners are kept in a small, thick-walled room with no windows, and their only source of ventilation is a small hole in the ceiling.

They are constantly monitored by guards, who threaten them with further punishment if they resist or complain.

As the prisoners struggle to survive in these inhumane conditions, they begin to form bonds with one another and to share their experiences and hopes for the future.

The film is a powerful indictment of the oppressive and dehumanizing practices of authoritarian regimes, and a testament to the resilience and dignity of those who resist them.

“The Thick-Walled Room” is a visually striking film, with stark black and white cinematography and an evocative score.

Kobayashi’s direction is uncompromising in its depiction of the brutality of the prison system, and the film remains a landmark work of Japanese cinema.

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Eclipse Series 38: Masaki Kobayashi Against the System (The Thick-Walled Room, I Will Buy You, Black River, The Inheritance) (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
  • Masaki Kobayashi, Keiko Kishi, Tatsuya Nakadai (Actors)
  • Masaki Kobayashi (Director)
  • Japanese, English (Subtitles)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

9. The Inheritance (1962)

“The Inheritance” (Arven) is a 1962 Danish drama film directed by the renowned Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer.

The film tells the story of the wealthy and influential farmer Morten Borgen, who is struggling with the dilemma of who to leave his inheritance to.

Morten’s two sons are both aspiring to inherit the farm, but one of them, Mikkel, is illegitimate and not officially recognized by society.

Morten must confront his own values and prejudices as he grapples with the decision of whom to leave his legacy to.

The film explores themes of class, inheritance, and family, and is renowned for its complex characters and powerful performances.

It features stunning cinematography and artful direction, showcasing Dreyer’s mastery of the cinematic form.

“The Inheritance” is considered a landmark of Danish cinema and a masterpiece of world cinema. It has been widely praised for its deep humanity and its exploration of universal themes that resonate with audiences around the world.

It is a must-see film for anyone interested in the history of cinema and the power of storytelling.

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Eclipse Series 38: Masaki Kobayashi Against the System (The Thick-Walled Room, I Will Buy You, Black River, The Inheritance) (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
  • Masaki Kobayashi, Keiko Kishi, Tatsuya Nakadai (Actors)
  • Masaki Kobayashi (Director)
  • Japanese, English (Subtitles)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

10. I Will Buy You (1956)

“I Will Buy You” is a 1956 film directed by Masaki Kobayashi. The film follows the story of a baseball scout named Kishimoto, who is determined to find and sign a promising young player named Kurita.

Kishimoto faces many challenges as he tries to convince Kurita to join his team, including the competition from rival scouts and the resistance of Kurita’s parents.

The film explores themes of ambition, corruption, and the commercialization of sports, as Kishimoto struggles to balance his love for the game with the demands of his job.

“I Will Buy You” features strong performances from the cast, including Keiji Sada as Kishimoto and Minoru Oki as Kurita, and impressive black and white cinematography by Yoshio Miyajima.

The film is notable for its realistic depiction of the baseball world in Japan and its critique of the industry’s dark side.

“I Will Buy You” is considered one of Kobayashi’s early masterpieces and an important work in Japanese cinema.

Sale
Eclipse Series 38: Masaki Kobayashi Against the System (The Thick-Walled Room, I Will Buy You, Black River, The Inheritance) (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
  • Masaki Kobayashi, Keiko Kishi, Tatsuya Nakadai (Actors)
  • Masaki Kobayashi (Director)
  • Japanese, English (Subtitles)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

11. Somewhere Under the Broad Sky (1954)

“Somewhere Under the Broad Sky” is a 1954 Japanese film directed by Masaki Kobayashi. The film tells the story of a young woman named Tomoko, who lives in post-World War II Tokyo and works as a typist.

Tomoko is engaged to a man named Kenichi, but she is also drawn to a younger man named Tsutomu.

The film explores themes of youth, love, and the struggle to find one’s place in a rapidly changing society.

One of the notable aspects of “Somewhere Under the Broad Sky” is its focus on the lives of young people in post-war Japan.

 

Kobayashi was known for his depictions of the struggles of ordinary people, and in this film, he captures the uncertainty and confusion felt by many young Japanese people at the time.

The film also features a powerful performance by the actress Keiko Kishi in the lead role of Tomoko. “Somewhere Under the Broad Sky” is a poignant and insightful portrayal of the challenges faced by the youth of Japan during a time of great social upheaval.

12. Inn of Evil (1971)

“Inn of Evil” (aka “The Evil Stairs”) is a 1971 Japanese period drama film directed by Masaki Kobayashi.

The film is set in 1836, during the Edo period, and follows a group of travelers who seek refuge in a remote mountain inn during a storm.

The inn is run by an enigmatic and cruel woman named Ogin, who holds a dark secret that threatens the safety of all who stay there.

The film explores themes of greed, corruption, and betrayal, and features a strong ensemble cast of talented actors.

It is renowned for its atmospheric cinematography, haunting score, and Kubrickian use of space and composition.

The film also makes use of dreamlike sequences and surreal imagery to convey the sense of foreboding and danger that permeates the story.

“Inn of Evil” is considered one of Kobayashi’s masterpieces and a classic of Japanese cinema. It is praised for its intelligent and nuanced storytelling, as well as its deft handling of complex moral and ethical issues.

It is a must-see for fans of period dramas, psychological thrillers, and world cinema in general.

3 Characteristics of Masaki Kobayashi Films

Masaki Kobayashi was a renowned Japanese filmmaker known for his socially conscious and politically engaged works. Here are three characteristics that are often associated with his films:

Social commentary: Kobayashi’s films often deal with issues of social injustice, corruption, and exploitation.

He was known for his critiques of the rigid social hierarchy and the abuse of power in Japanese society.

His films often depict characters who rebel against the system and fight for justice.Realism: Kobayashi was known for his realistic and unflinching portrayal of human suffering and social issues.

His films often feature long, contemplative shots and a naturalistic approach to acting and dialogue.

He was also known for his use of black and white cinematography, which added to the stark and often bleak atmosphere of his films.

Humanism: Despite the often grim subject matter of his films, Kobayashi had a deep sense of compassion for his characters and their struggles.

He was interested in exploring the complexities of human nature and the ways in which people navigate difficult ethical dilemmas.

His films often explore themes of morality, guilt, and redemption, and are marked by a deep sense of empathy for the human condition.

3 Reasons Why You Should Watch Masaki Kobayashi Films

Here are three reasons why you should watch Masaki Kobayashi films:

A master of Japanese cinema: Kobayashi was one of the most important filmmakers in the history of Japanese cinema.

His films are known for their technical precision, visual beauty, and powerful storytelling. Watching his films is a great way to deepen your appreciation for the art of cinema, and to learn about the rich cultural history of Japan.

Engaging with social and political issues: Kobayashi’s films are often deeply engaged with issues of social and political justice.

His works reflect a critical and nuanced perspective on Japanese society, including its complex power dynamics and cultural traditions.

By watching his films, you can gain a deeper understanding of the historical and cultural contexts in which they were made, and explore important issues of social and political justice that are still relevant today.

A deeply humanistic vision: Despite dealing with weighty and often dark subject matter, Kobayashi’s films are infused with a deep sense of empathy and humanism.

His works are marked by a strong compassion for his characters and their struggles, and a sense of moral integrity that speaks to the best of human nature.

By watching his films, you can engage with the profound philosophical and ethical questions that Kobayashi raises, and gain a deeper appreciation for the richness and complexity of the human experience.

Best Masaki Kobayashi Films – Wrapping Up

Masaki Kobayashi was a legendary Japanese director known for his uncompromising approach to filmmaking and his deep concern for social justice.

His films were often characterized by their powerful visuals, nuanced characters, and bold critiques of the status quo. Here are some of his best films:

“Harakiri” (1962): This powerful film is a searing critique of the samurai code and the culture of honor in feudal Japan.

It tells the story of a ronin who seeks to commit ritual suicide at the residence of a lord, and the devastating consequences of his actions.

“Kwaidan” (1964): This anthology film features four ghost stories adapted from Lafcadio Hearn’s “Kwaidan” collection.

Each story is beautifully shot and full of haunting imagery, and the film as a whole is a stunning meditation on the supernatural.

“The Human Condition” (1959-1961): This epic trilogy of films tells the story of a Japanese pacifist who is drafted into the army during World War II and struggles to maintain his ideals in the face of violence and oppression.

It is a profound exploration of the human cost of war and the struggle for human dignity.

Masaki Kobayashi was one of the greatest filmmakers in Japanese history, and his films continue to inspire and challenge audiences around the world.