Japan Bids Farewell to Film Director Kaneto Shindo

TOKYO ~ More than a thousand people crowded into Minato ward’s  Zojoji Temple to pay their final respects Sunday to movie director and screenwriter Shindo Kaneto (photo left), who died of natural causes on May 29 at the age of 100.

A sought-after art director and apprentice to Kenji Mizoguchi in the 1930s, Shindo made a name for himself in the 1940s as a prolific and popular screenwriter before working as assistant director to such iconic filmmakers as Kon Ichikawa and New Wave titans Seijun Suzuki and Yazuo Matsumoro. In 1950 Shindo formed one of Japan’s first independent production companies and began to direct politically outspoken features with a distinct class-consciousness, focused principally upon the struggle of the lower and working classes – an interest which would culminate in his extraordinary study of a rural 20th century peasantry The Naked Island, considered by many to be Shindo’s masterpiece.

Children of Hiroshima ~ 1953

Shindo’s real cinematic breakthrough, however, may have come in 1953 with his controversial Gempatsu no Ko (Children of Hiroshima), the first and among the most powerful Japanese narrative films to depict the atomic bombing of Shindo’s hometown and its aftermath.  Gempatsu no Ko starred his regular leading lady Otowa Nobuko as a young teacher who returns to several years after the bomb in search of her former students – was a critical success when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. The powerful and controversial film was released in the United States only last year, in a retrospective of Shindo’s work at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Hadaka no Shima (The Naked Island)  ~ 1960

The Naked Island, released in 1960, is a stark, wordless drama, filmed in quasi-documentary style, about an impoverished farming family scraping out a living on a barren outcropping devoid of fresh water. The film, which has no dialogue, follows its characters’ lives of crushing toil on their daily pilgrimage to haul water by hand from the mainland.

Shindo was also known for two critically praised horror films, Onibaba (1964) and Kuroneko (1968). Both are set in Japan’s feudal era, a time of war, famine and lawlessness.

Onibaba ~ 1968

In Onibaba, a woman and her daughter-in-law, desperate to survive, murder roaming samurai and sell their weapons and armor. In Kuroneko (The Black Cat), two peasant women, raped and killed by samurai, return as seductive, vengeful demons. [Japan Zone ~ RIP Shindo Kaneto] [The New York Times ~ Kaneto Shindo, Wide-Ranging Filmmaker, Dies at 100] [Harvard Film Archives ~ Masterworks by Kaneto Shindo]