Shindo’s “Hymn” is one of many adaptions of Tanizaki’s classical novella ‘Shunkinsho’ (‘A Portrait of Shunkin’,1933). The story tells of the adoration of Sasuke for his mistress, the blind samisen-teacher Shunkin, who treats him imperiously and subjects him to cruel beatings. After an unknown intruder probably one of her pupils, who seeks revenge for her cruel behaviour, pours boiling water on the sleeping Shunkin’s face, Sasuke blinds himself in order not to behold her disfigurement. Sasuke’s sacrifice, made in response to Shunkin’s tacit wish, seals their life-long relationship. Continue reading
Veteran Japanese filmmaker Kaneto Shindo was 82 when he directed this meditation on life, death, and loss. Following the passing of her husband, elderly former actress Yoko Morimoto (Haruko Sugimura) travels to her summer home in the mountains of Central Japan. Upon her arrival, her servant Tokoyo (Nobuko Otowa) has sad news for her — her long-time gardener has recently committed suicide. Adding to Yoko’s sorrow is the arrival of Tomie, an old friend from her days in the theater, who is traveling with her husband Tohachiro Urshikuni (Hideo Kanze), also an actor. Tomie has grown senile, and Tohachiro no longer has the money to support them; he informs Yoko that they’ve chosen to kill themselves rather than entering an old age home that they can’t afford anyway, and they are taking this final trip to say goodbye to their friends. As Yoko deals with this troubling news, Tokoyo has a confession to make — she had an affair with Yoko’s late husband, who was the biological father of Tokoyo’s daughter. A Last Note received the Critics Award at the 1995 Moscow International Film Festival. Continue reading
A landmark in fantasy cinema, this lyrical ghost story is set in medieval Japan amid a bloody conflict between rival fiefdoms. While the warrior Kichi’s impoverished wife (Jitsuko Yoshimura) and mother (Nobuko Otowa) wait for his return from battle, they maintain a humble existence by luring lost soldiers into the surrounding fields of tall grass and murdering them in order to sell their armor and weapons for food; the bodies are then disposed of in a deep cavern. After learning that her son has been killed in battle, Otowa begins to concoct a scheme to frighten her daughter-in-law into staying at home with her indefinitely. After killing a soldier clad in a hideous demon mask — which hides his grotesque, scarred face — the mother dons the mask and succeeds in frightening Yoshimura away from her new lover’s house. To her own horror, the mother quickly discovers that the mask is now securely stuck to her face, and her attempts to remove it culminate in the greatest horror of all. Fraught with sexual tension, nefarious schemes, and Freudian symbolism, this compelling masterpiece, by turns hypnotically beautiful and shockingly brutal, represents the finest in horror filmmaking, driven by powerful imagery and aided by sumptuous black-and-white photography.
(Cavett Binion on All Movie Guide)
The Naked Island
Filmed on the virtually deserted Setonaikai archipelago in south-west Japan, The Naked Island was made — in the words of its director — “as a ‘cinematic poem’ to try and capture the life of human beings struggling like ants against the forces of nature”. Kaneto Shindô (Onibaba, Kuroneko) made the film with his own production company, Kindai Eiga Kyôkai, who were facing financial ruin at the time. Using a tenth of the average budget, Shindô took one last impassioned risk to make this film. With his small crew, they relocated to an inn on the island of Mihari where, for two months in early 1960, they would make what they considered to be their last film. Continue reading
Daigo Fukuryū Maru (第五福龍丸?, Lucky Dragon 5) was a Japanese tuna fishing boat, which was exposed to and contaminated by nuclear fallout from the United States’ Castle Bravo thermonuclear device test on Bikini Atoll, on March 1, 1954. Kuboyama Aikichi, the boat’s chief radioman, died half a year later, on September 23, 1954, suffering from acute radiation syndrome. He is considered the first victim of the hydrogen bomb of Operation Castle Bravo.
Five years after the accident, the Japanese film director Shindo Kaneto made a film titled Daigo Fukuryu Maru. The actor Uno Jukichi played the role of Kuboyama Aikichi. Director Kaneto Shindo spoke at a screening of his 1959 film ”Daigo Fukuryu Maru” (Lucky Dragon No. 5), emphasizing the need to abolish nuclear weapons and to continue educating youth about the devastation they cause. ”Nuclear arms have been an issue since World War II,” the 91-year-old told an audience of over 90 people, citing this week’s multilateral talks in Beijing on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. ”They can wipe out the human race.” Continue reading