|Birth Day:||April 22, 1912|
|Birth Place:||Hiroshima City, Hiroshima Prefecture|
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Shindo was born in 1912 in the Saeki District of Hiroshima Prefecture. He was the youngest of four children. His family were wealthy landowners, but his father went bankrupt and lost all his land after acting as a loan guarantor. His older brother and two sisters went to find work, and he and his mother and father lived in a storehouse. His mother became an agricultural labourer and then died during his early childhood. His older brother was good at judo and became a policeman. One of his sisters became a nurse and would go on to work caring for atom bomb victims. The other sister married a Japanese-American and went to live in the US.
In 1933, Shindo, then living with his brother in Onomichi, was inspired by a film called Bangaku No Isshō to want to start a career in films. He saved money by working in a bicycle shop and in 1934, with a letter of introduction from his brother to a policeman in Kyoto, he set off for Kyoto. After a long wait he was able to get a job in the film developing department of Shinkō Kinema, which he joined because he was too short to join the lighting department. He was one of eleven workers in the developing department, but only three of them actually worked, the others being members of the company baseball team. At this time he learned that films were based on scripts because old scripts were used as toilet paper. He would take the scripts home to study them. His job involved drying 200-foot lengths of film on a roller three metres long and two metres high, and he learned the relationship between the pieces of film he was drying and the scripts he read.
When Shinkō Kinema moved from Kyoto to Tokyo in November 1935, many of the staff, who were Kyoto locals, did not want to move. The brother of the policeman who had helped Shindo get the job in Shinkō Kinema was one of them. He asked Shindo to take his place, and Shindo got a job in Shinko Kinema's art department run by Hiroshi Mizutani. Shindo discovered that a lot of people wanted to become film directors, including Mizutani, and he decided that he might have a better chance of success as a scriptwriter.
By the late 1930s he was working as an assistant to Kenji Mizoguchi on several films, most notably being in charge of the sets for The 47 Ronin. He submitted scripts to Mizoguchi, only for Mizoguchi to tell him that he "had no talent" for screenwriting, events dramatized in Shindo's film "The Story of a Beloved Wife". His first film as a screenwriter was the film Nanshin josei in 1940. He was asked to write a script by Tomu Uchida but the script was never filmed due to Uchida's untimely military conscription.
In 1942, he joined a Shochiku subsidiary, the Koa Film company under the tutelage of Kenji Mizoguchi. In 1943 he transferred to the Shochiku studio. Later that year, his common-law wife Takako Kuji died of tuberculosis. In April 1944, despite being graded class C in the military physical exam, he was drafted into the navy. The group of 100 men he was serving with were initially assigned to clean buildings. Sixty of the men were selected by lottery to serve on a ship and then died in a submarine attack. Thirty more men were selected by lottery to serve on a submarine and were not heard from again. Four men were selected by lottery to be machine-gunners on freight ships converted to military use, and died in submarine attacks. The remaining six men cleaned the Takarazuka theatre which was then being used by the military, then sent to a camp where they were insulted and beaten.
In 1946, with a secure job as a scriptwriter at Shochiku, he married Miyo Shindo, via an arranged marriage, and bought a house in Zushi intending to start a family. At Shochiku, Shindo met director Kōzaburō Yoshimura. Their collaboration has been called "one of the most successful film partnerships in the postwar industry. Shindo playing Dudley Nichols to Yoshimura's John Ford." The duo scored a critical hit with A Ball at the Anjo House in 1947. Shindo wrote scripts for almost all of the Shochiku directors except Yasujirō Ozu.
Shindo and Yoshimura were both unhappy at Shochiku, which viewed the two as having a "dark outlook" on life. In 1950 they both left to form an independent production company, Kindai Eiga Kyokai with actor Taiji Tonoyama, which went on to produce most of Shindo's films.
In 1951, Shindo made his debut as a director with the autobiographical Story of a Beloved Wife starring Nobuko Otowa in the role of his deceased common-law wife Takako Kuji. Otowa threw away a career as a studio star to appear in Shindo's film. She became Shindo's lover, and would go on to play leading roles in almost all of the films Shindo directed during her life. After directing Avalanche in 1952, Shindo was invited by the Japan Teachers Union to make a film about the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Children of Hiroshima stars Nobuko Otowa as a young teacher who returns to Hiroshima for the first time since the bomb was dropped to find surviving former students. Both controversial and critically acclaimed on its release, it premiered at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival. It was the first Japanese film to deal with the subject of the atomic bomb, which had been forbidden under postwar American censorship.
After this international success, Shindo made Shukuzu in 1953. Nobuko Otowa is Ginko, a poor girl who must become a geisha in order to support her family, and cannot marry the rich client whom she falls in love with because of his family honor. Film critic Tadao Sato said Shindo had "inherited from his mentor Mizoguchi his central theme of worship of womanhood...Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Shindo's view of women blossomed under his master's encouragement, but once in bloom revealed itself to be of a different hue...Shindo differs from Mizoguchi by idealizing the intimidating capacity of Japanese women for sustained work, and contrasting them with shamefully lazy men."
Between 1953 and 1959 Shindo continued to make political films that were social critiques of poverty and women's suffering in present-day Japan. These included Onna no issho, an adaptation of Maupassant's Une Vie in 1953, and Dobu, a 1954 film about the struggles of unskilled workers and petty thieves that starred Otowa as a tragic prostitute. In 1959 he made Lucky Dragon Number 5, the true story of a fishing crew irradiated by an atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll. The film received the Peace Prize at a Czech film festival, but was not a success with either critics or audiences.
With Kindai Eiga Kyokai close to bankruptcy, Shindo poured what little financial resources he had left into The Naked Island, a film without dialogue which he described as "a cinematic poem to try and capture the life of human beings struggling like ants against the forces of nature." Nobuko Otowa and Taiji Tonoyama are a couple living on a small island with their two young sons and no water supply. Every day they boat to another island to retrieve fresh water to drink and irrigate their crops. The film saved Shindo's company when it was awarded the Grand Prize at the 2nd Moscow International Film Festival in 1961. Shindo made his first ever trip abroad to attend the Moscow film festival, and he was able to sell the film in sixty-one countries.
After making two more films of social relevance (Ningen in 1962 and Mother in 1963), Shindo shifted his focus as a filmmaker to the individuality of a person, specifically a person's sexual nature. He explained: "Political things such as class consciousness or class struggle or other aspects of social existence really come down to the problem of man alone [...]. I have discovered the powerful, very fundamental force in man which sustains his survival and which can be called sexual energy [...]. My idea of sex is nothing but the expression of the vitality of man, his urge for survival." From these new ideas came Onibaba in 1964.
Onibaba stars Nobuko Otowa and Jitsuko Yoshimura as 14th-century Japanese peasants in a reed-filled marshland who survive by killing and robbing defeated samurai. The film won numerous awards and the Grand Prix at the Panama Film Festival, and Best Supporting Actress (Jitsuko Yoshimura) and Best Cinematography (Kiyomi Kuroda) at the Blue Ribbon Awards in 1964.
Shindo continued his exploration of human sexuality with Akuto in 1965 and Lost Sex in 1966. In Lost Sex, a middle aged man who has become temporarily impotent after the Hiroshima bombing in 1945, once again loses his virility due to nuclear tests in the Bikini Atoll. In the end, he is cured by his housekeeper. Impotence was again the theme of Shindo's next film, Libido, released in 1967. Gender politics and strong female characters played a strong role in both of these films. Tadao Sato said "By contrasting the comical weakness of the male with the unbridled strength of the female, Shindo seemed to be saying in the 1960s that women had wrought their revenge. This could have been a reflection of postwar society, since it is commonly said in Japan women have become stronger because men have lost all confidence in their masculinity due to Japan's defeat."
In 1968 Shindo made Kuroneko, a horror film reminiscent of Onibaba and Ugetsu Monogatari. The film centers around a vengeful mother and daughter-in-law pair played by Nobuko Otowa and Kiwako Taichi. After being raped and left to die in their burning hut by a group of soldiers, the pair return to Earth as demons who entice samurai into a bamboo grove, where they are killed. The film won the Mainichi Film Awards for Best Actress (Otowa) and Best Cinematography (Kiyomi Kuroda) in 1968.
Shindo also made the comedy Strong Women, Weak Men in 1968. A mother and her teenage daughter leave their impoverished coal-mining town to become cabaret hostesses in Kyoto. They quickly acquire enough cynical street smarts to get as much money out of their predatory johns as they can. Shindo said of the film "common people never appear in the pages of history. Silently they live, eat and die [...]. I wanted to depict their bright, healthy, open vitality with a sprinkling of comedy."
His next two films were crime dramas. In Heat Wave Island, released in 1969, Otowa is a former Inland Sea island farmer who has moved to the mainland in order to find work, but instead ends up dead. The film begins with the discovery of her corpse, which leads to an investigation that uncovers the narcotics, prostitution, and murder in which many poor farmers had found themselves trapped after World War II. 1970's Live Today, Die Tomorrow! was based on the true story of Norio Nagayama, dramatizing not only his crimes but the poverty and cruelty of his upbringing. The film won the Golden Prize at the 7th Moscow International Film Festival in 1971.
From 1972 to 1981, Shindo served as chair of the Japan Writers Guild.
Shindo's 1974 film My Way was a throwback to films of his early career and was an exposure of the Japanese government's mistreatment of the country's migratory workers. Based on a true story, an elderly woman resiliently spends nine months attempting to retrieve her husband's dead body, fighting government bureaucracy and indifference all along the way.
In 1975, Shindo made Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director, a documentary about his mentor who had died in 1956. The film uses film clips, footage of the hospital where the director spent his last days and interviews with actors, technicians and friends to paint a portrait of the director. Shindo also wrote a book on Mizoguchi, published in 1976.
In 1977 The Life of Chikuzan was released about the life of blind shamisen player Takahashi Chikuzan. It was entered into the 10th Moscow International Film Festival in 1977.
In 1977 he also travelled to America to film a television documentary, "Document 8.6", about the Hiroshima atomic bomb. He met Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the plane which dropped the bomb, but was not able to interview him on film. The documentary was broadcast in 1978.
In 1978, after the death of his ex-wife, he married Nobuko Otowa.
Edo Porn (Hokusai manga), released in 1981, is about the life of the 18th-century Japanese wood engraver Katsushika Hokusai.
In 1984 Shindo made The Horizon based on the life of his sister. The film chronicles her experiences as a poor farm girl who is sold as a mail-order bride to a Japanese American and never sees her family again. She spends time in a Japanese internment camp during World War II and lives a life of difficulty and disappointment.
During production of Shindo's 1995 film A Last Note, Nobuko Otowa was diagnosed with liver cancer. She died in December 1994. A Last Note won numerous awards, including Best Film awards at the Blue Ribbon Awards, Hochi Film Awards, Japan Academy Prizes, Kinema Junpo Awards and Mainichi Film Awards, as well as awards for Best Director at the Japanese Academy, Nikkan Sports Film Awards, Kinema Junpo Awards and Mainichi Film Award.
In 2000, at the age of 88, Shindo filmed By Player, a biography of actor Taiji Tonoyama incorporating aspects of the history of Shindo's film company, Kindai Eiga Kyokai, and using footage of Otowa shot in 1994.
Shindo's son Jiro was the producer of his later films, and Kaze Shindo, Jiro's daughter and Shindo's granddaughter, followed in Shindo's footsteps as a film director and scriptwriter. She studied at the Japan Academy of Moving Images, and in 2000 she made her debut film, Love/Juice.
In 2003, when Shindo was 91, he directed Owl (Fukurō) based on a true story of farmers sent back from Japanese colonies in Manchuria to unworkable farmland at the end of the Second World War. The entire film was shot on a single set, partly because of Shindo's mobility problems. The film was entered into the 25th Moscow International Film Festival where Shindo won a special award for his contribution to world cinema.
In 2010, Shindo directed Postcard, a story of middle-aged men drafted for military service at the end of the second world war loosely based on Shindo's own experiences. Postcard was selected as the Japanese submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but did not make the January shortlist. Due to failing health, Shindo announced that it would be his last film.
Shindo died of natural causes on May 29, 2012. According to his son Jiro, he was talking in his sleep about new film projects even at the end of his life. He requested that his ashes be scattered on the Sukune island in Mihara where The Naked Island was filmed, and where half of Nobuko Otowa's ashes were also scattered.
Currently, Kaneto Shindo is 110 years, 7 months and 7 days old. Kaneto Shindo will celebrate 111th birthday on a Saturday 22nd of April 2023.
Find out about Kaneto Shindo birthday activities in timeline view here.