Kaneto Shindo

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Kaneto Shindo’s Beginnings in Films 

Born in Hiroshima in 1912, Kaneto Shindo is one of the most important directors of Japanese cinema. He grew up in a family of landowners, which then went into disrepair. In 1927 he entered the Shinko kinema studios, where he began working in Japanese cinema, initially as an assistant to the scenography. 

He works as a set designer in the famous film Revenge of the 47 ronin, of the director and his teacher Kenji Mizoguchi. During the 1930s and 1940s, however, his main commitment became that of a screenwriter. In the 1940s he wrote his first screenplays for cinema for directors of the caliber of Kon Ichikawa, Keisuke Kinoshita, Fumio Kamei, Tadashi Imai and Kōzaburō Yoshimura.

His most vital collaboration is that with Kozaburo Yoshimura, with whom he founded in 1951 independent production company Società del Cinema Moderno. The director who most influences his cinema, in particular as regards the theme of the condition of women and the resoluteness of his female characters, is however Kenji Mizoguchi with whom Shindo himself dedicates a long documentary

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The Movies of Kaneto Shindo

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Story of a Beloved Wife (1951)

The directorial debut takes place with Asai Monogatari, who sees his future wife Nobuko Otowa among the protagonists. It is a film that surprised Japanese critics at the time for the autobiographical dimension with which it records, evoking the life of the deceased first wife. In addition to the attention to the female universe, the observation of the apparently insignificant details of everyday life emerges in the film, a central aspect in Shindo’s cinematic poetics. 

Plot:

Numazaki is a young aspiring screenwriter who lives as a lodger with a couple and their daughter Takako. The two fall in love, but Takako’s father disapproves of the relationship due to Numazaki’s unstable job.

Takako rebels against her father and moves in with Numazaki in their own apartment. Numazaki submits a screenplay to director Sakaguchi, but it is rejected. Sakaguchi gives him a second chance, but encourages him to study literature to improve his work.

Numazaki dedicates himself to studying and writing, while Takako supports him by working as a saleswoman. Numazaki’s screenplay is finally accepted, but Takako falls seriously ill with tuberculosis.

Before she dies, Takako asks Numazaki to write a story about her. Numazaki fulfills his beloved’s wish and writes a story about their love story.

The Children of Hiroshima (1952)

A Hiroshima native Kaneto Shindo makes one of the most important films in the history of Japanese cinema on the atomic disaster, The Children of Hiroshima. 

The film is based on the true story of Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who died of leukemia caused by the radiation of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

The story follows Takako Ishikawa, a teacher who returns to Hiroshima four years after the bombing. Takako is searching for old friends and acquaintances, but she finds the city in ruins. She also meets Sadako Sasaki, a six-year-old girl who is folding a thousand paper cranes to make a wish: to be cured of leukemia.

Plot

Takako Ishikawa is a teacher who returns to Hiroshima four years after the atomic bombing. The city is in ruins and Takako is searching for old friends and acquaintances.

One day, Takako meets Sadako Sasaki, a six-year-old girl who is folding a thousand paper cranes. Sadako is sick with leukemia, a disease that is believed to have been caused by the atomic radiation.

Takako helps Sadako to fold the paper cranes and tells her the story of a Japanese legend that says that whoever folds a thousand paper cranes will have their wish granted.

Sadako continues to fold the paper cranes, but her health worsens. In the end, Sadako dies at the age of 12.

Children of Hiroshima is a moving and touching film that tells the story of a human tragedy. The film is a warning against war and violence, and a call for peace and compassion.

The tone of Kaneto Shindo is not that of a historical account but that of an intense and restrained lyrical emotion, which seeks its essence in the details. The film was a great success with critics and audiences and was presented at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953. 

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Epitome (1953)

Epitome (1953) is a Japanese film directed by Kaneto Shindō, starring Hideko Takamine and Kenji Mizoguchi. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Tatsuo Kuroda.

The film tells the story of a young woman named Tokiko who is married to a man named Kenji. Kenji is still in love with his first wife, who has died, and Tokiko feels neglected and unloved. She begins to have an affair with another man, and eventually leaves Kenji.

However, Tokiko soon regrets her decision and returns to Kenji. She realizes that she loves him, and that she wants to be with him, even if he doesn’t love her back in the same way.

Themes

Epitome is a film about love, loss, and loneliness. It explores the different ways that people cope with grief and loss, and the different ways that love can manifest itself.

The film also explores the role of women in Japanese society. Tokiko is a strong and independent woman, but she is also trapped by the expectations of her society. She is expected to be a good wife and mother, even if her husband does not love her back.

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The Naked Island (1960)

His international fame, however, comes with a subsequent film entitled The naked island, in which he tells the tiring and monotonous daily life of a couple of peasants. 

Husband and wife live with their children on a wild island where survival conditions are very difficult. The hard work in the fields, the monotony of the days and the mourning for the death of one of the children make their life difficult. Every now and then they have to move from their small island to get food and water on the larger islands. Man and woman try to continue to cultivate their land and fight resignation in the face of life’s adversities. 

It is a courageous film that completely abolishes dialogues by entrusting the narration exclusively to music and noises. The film wins the Grand Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival and is a great success with audiences both in Japan and abroad, even if Kaneto Shindo is criticized at home for having put forward his negative view of the Japanese people to international audiences for his negative vision of the Japanese people. 

Human (1962)

Human (Ningen) (1962) is a Japanese film directed by Kaneto Shindō, starring Toshio Kurosawa and Yoko Tsukasa. The film is based on the novel by Shōhei Ōoka “The Man Who Laughs”.

Plot

Onihei is a man born with a facial deformity that gives him a permanent smile. He is a lonely and introverted man who is often ostracized by society.

Onihei lives in a small village in Japan where he works as a traveling salesman. One day, he meets a woman named Omasa who is attracted to him despite his deformity.

Onihei and Omasa fall in love and marry. However, their happiness is short-lived. Omasa dies in childbirth, leaving Onihei alone and grief-stricken.

Onihei withdraws from the world and begins to travel around Japan. During his travels, he meets a series of people who help him find his place in the world.

In the end, Onihei finds inner peace and happiness. He realizes that his deformity is not an obstacle to happiness, but a gift.

Themes

Human is a film about the human condition. Onihei is a man who must face the challenges of life, including loneliness, ostracism, and loss. However, he is able to find happiness and fulfillment despite his difficulties.

The film also explores the themes of love, loss, and hope. Onihei is a man who has experienced much suffering, but he eventually finds love and happiness.

Onibaba (1964)

The aesthetic component of Kaneto Shindo’s cinema is evident in Onibaba, horror film that tells the story of two women left to fend for themselves who live by robbing and killing stray Samurai. 

Inspired by an ancient Buddhist fairy tale, the film tells the story of two women who live in extreme poverty, in a hut on the bank of a river. They survive by killing and robbing samurai exhausted by combat, with techniques they have refined over time. 

One day a neighbor, Hachi, tells the two women that the son of one of them, who went to war, is dead. The man also proposes to help them in their thefts and murders. But women don’t trust and refuse. But over time one of them will slowly fall in love with Hachi. One night the woman kills a mighty knight in a creepy mask with one of the tested traps. But when he takes off his mask, he discovers that behind it are the non-human traits of a frightening demon.  

Kuroneko (1968)

Another particularly interesting horror film by Kaneto Shindo is Kuroneko. In the Japanese Jidai-geki era, which began in the 17th century, a terrible civil war tore apart the villages of the country.

Kuroneko (藪の中の黒猫, Yabu no Naka no Kuroneko, “A Black Cat in a Bamboo Grove”; or simply The Black Cat) is a 1968 Japanese historical drama and horror film directed by Kaneto Shindō, and an adaptation of a supernatural folktale.

The film is set in a village in war-torn medieval Japan, and tells the story of two women, Yone and her nuora Shige, who are raped and murdered by a group of samurai. After their death, they return as vengeful ghosts, seducing and brutally killing samurai who pass through the bamboo forest where they were killed.

Kuroneko is a visually stunning film, with stark black-and-white cinematography and haunting imagery. Shindō uses the horror genre to explore themes of revenge, violence, and the female condition in feudal Japan. The film was a critical and commercial success upon its release, and is now considered one of the greatest Japanese horror films ever made.

Critical reception

Kuroneko was met with critical acclaim upon its release. Roger Ebert praised the film’s “striking visuals” and “poetic atmosphere”, while Pauline Kael called it “a masterpiece of horror”. The film has since been cited as an influence by many other filmmakers, including Guillermo del Toro and Quentin Tarantino.

Themes

Kuroneko is a film that can be interpreted on many levels. On the surface, it is a traditional Japanese ghost story. However, the film also explores deeper themes such as revenge, violence, and the female condition in feudal Japan.

The two female protagonists, Yone and Shige, are both victims of male violence. After their death, they return as vengeful ghosts, seeking to punish the samurai who have wronged them. This can be seen as a metaphor for the way in which women were often oppressed and silenced in feudal Japanese society.

The film also explores the theme of violence itself. The samurai who rape and murder Yone and Shige are shown to be brutal and sadistic. However, the two women themselves also become violent after their death. This suggests that violence is a cycle that can be difficult to break.

Legacy

Kuroneko is considered to be one of the greatest Japanese horror films ever made. It is a visually stunning and atmospheric film that explores complex themes such as revenge, violence, and the female condition. The film has been influential on many other filmmakers, and continues to be enjoyed by audiences today.

Kaneto Shindo was a independent filmmaker little inclined to compromise. Shindo perhaps excessively discounts the inability to choose between traditional models and those offered by the wave of New Cinema of the 60s. 

Live Today, Die Tomorrow! (1970)

Live Today, Die Tomorrow! (1970) is a Japanese film directed by Kaneto Shindō, starring Tatsuya Nakadai and Michiyo Aratama. The film is based on the novel by Shintarō Ishihara “The Naked Island”.

Plot

The film tells the story of two brothers, Tetsuo and Jiro, who live on a small uninhabited island in the Pacific. The two brothers live a simple and frugal life, working the land and fishing to survive.

One day, a ship arrives on the island and the two brothers are invited to board. Tetsuo is curious about the outside world and decides to leave, while Jiro chooses to stay on the island.

Tetsuo travels the world, but he realizes that modern life is too fast-paced and artificial for him. In the end, he returns to the island to be with his brother.

Themes

Live Today, Die Tomorrow! is a film about the simplicity of life. The two brothers represent two ways of living: Tetsuo is attracted to the outside world and its complexity, while Jiro finds happiness in the simplicity of life on the island.

The film also explores the themes of human nature, the search for happiness, and the connection between humans.

Will to Live (1999)

Will to Live (1999), also known as Ikitai, is a Japanese drama film directed by Kaneto Shindō and starring Rentarō Mikuni and Shinobu Ōtake.

The film tells the story of Yasukichi, an elderly man who is facing the end of his life. He is incontinent and his daughter, Tokuko, is struggling to care for him. Yasukichi begins to think about suicide, but he is also determined to live as long as he can.

One day, Yasukichi meets a young woman named Yukiko. Yukiko is kind and compassionate, and she helps Yasukichi to find a new lease on life.

Will to Live is a moving and compassionate film about the human will to live. It is a film that will stay with you long after you have seen it.

Themes

  • The will to live: The film is about Yasukichi’s determination to live as long as he can, even when he is facing the end of his life.
  • Aging: The film explores the challenges of aging, including physical decline, loneliness, and the loss of loved ones.
  • Death: The film also explores the theme of death, and how Yasukichi comes to accept his own mortality.
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