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THE NAKED ISLAND
1960 - Kaneto Shindo
Japan
67
Opening Shot

The Naked Island opens with a series of shots beginning with an overhead from the sky moving in through islands. Intercut with the images of landscapes and sea are titles cards reading “Plough and reach to the sky. The dry soil. The difficult land.” So begins a film that takes us through the cycle of human experience.

The Film

Directed by internationally acclaimed Kaneto Shindo the film is perhaps best described in the filmmakers own words by describing that it was made “as a cinematic poem to try to and capture the life of human beings struggling like ants against the forces of nature.” Telling the story of a small peasant family (a married couple and their two children) struggling to survive in an isolated island. The island is void of 20th century technology and most importantly is void of fresh water. Through a minimalist filmmaking style, The Naked Island captures the repetitive cycle of the daily chores, most notably the process of acquiring fresh water from the mainland. The film is not silent, but it is completely without dialogue. Rather then used a device Shindo uses silence as a rhythmic form of expressing the endless cycle of daily duties. Shindo masterful sense of editing and narrative flow make the film one that is equally poetic, simple, and powerful. It is a deeply moving film of human struggle but one that ultimately becomes a spiritual reflection through understanding and acceptance of existence. This is the film that gave Shindo the world recognition which lead to his long-standing career of unique and versatile work. The Naked Island is one of his most celebrated films, and it stands as essential viewing of Japanese cinema.

The Filmmaker

Kaneto Shindo began a screenwriter and a mentor as an assistant director for legendary Japanese filmmaker Kenji Mizoguchi (he would later pay tribute to the filmmaker with a documentary in 1975 Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director). Shindo started as a screenwriter in the early 1930s and he continued to write screenplays for other directors throughout this entire career, even after he made his directorial debut in 1951 (Story of a Beloved Wife). After gaining some national acclaim as an important, socially-centered filmmaker, Shindo was asked by the Japan Teachers Union to produce a film about the atomic bomb (Children of Hiroshima). The quiet, humanist, and semi-documentary style would remain evident in Shindo's most prominent early films, notably his first major international success, The Naked Island (1960), which won a BAFTA Film Award and Grand Prix at the Moscow International Film Festival. While his films were always politically rooted, Shindo's directorial career experienced a shift beginning with the release of his masterful 1964 film Onibaba, Shindo's first period film. Onibaba as well as his excellent 1968 film Kuroneko , were marked by their exploration into civilizations morality, sexuality, and violence. Shindo is filmmaker deeply concerned with humanist and political themes, notably the connections or contrast between civilization and primitive life. Asked about his preference for this concern, Shindo responded "since the latter half of the 19th century, we have been witnessing the weakening of the human mind. I think this is a universal problem. Consequently, modern man, and I for one, are in the process of reevaluating primitive man's energy and identity. This is a very central question." Shindo continues to make films today, recently releasing Fukuro in 2003. That same year Shindo was given the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Awards of the Japanese Academy.

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Resources
trailer (youtube)      
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