Staggering and monumental.
This is a film that seems haunted by a sense of (national) guilt which just makes it even more affecting. Also, despite the specificity of the context, it feels both current and universal.
Firstly, the film is really ambitious covering a broad spectrum of issues around what it means to be human and live in a society. It’s also brutally cognizant of the degree of hypocrisy that we are all responsible for – both individually and collectively. It repeatedly pits individual ideology against self-interest and the greater good. This all sounds rather bleak but the formal elements keep it from being merely a litany of miserable events piled up on top of each other. Plus, Kaji is a really well-written protagonist. He’s both sympathetic and flawed in the way that most humans are. Several times in the course of the film, he trades in his ideals or at least the opportunity for nobility in the interest of pragmatism / his own goals.
I can see the film being criticized for being somewhat repetitive but at least for me, the repetition worked in that it reinforces the ideas that the film is trying to convey. It’s mirrored by the repetition in the imagery of groups of people trudging through tough, barren landscapes hoping for a better future. Ultimately, despite the occasional heavy-handedness of the plot, I can’t get these images off my mind.