Kaneto Shindo’s beginnings in film
Born in Hiroshima in 1912, Kaneto Shindo 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.
The movies of Kaneto Shindo
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.
The Children of Hiroshima
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.
Takako Ishikawa is a teacher off the coast of Hiroshima and has not returned to his atomic bombed city in 4 years. His trip to Hiroshima becomes a journey to his destroyed homeland, in search of surviving old friends.
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.
The Naked Island
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.
Onibaba – The assassins
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.
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. Two women living in a bamboo house are raped and killed by a group of unscrupulous samurai. Some time later, in the same area, some samurai are found bled dead. The governor sends a valiant samurai to investigate.
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.