Kaneto Shindo

Kaneto Shindo

Kaneto Shindo
Born (1912-04-22)April 22, 1912
Hiroshima, Japan
Died May 29, 2012(2012-05-29) (aged 100)
Hiroshima, Japan
Occupation Film director, screenwriter, art director, producer, author
Spouse(s) Takako Kuji (common-law wife), Miyo Shindo, Nobuko Otowa
Children Jiro Shindo

Kaneto Shindo (新藤 兼人 Shindō Kaneto, April 22, 1912 – May 29, 2012) was a Japanese film director, screenwriter, film producer, and author. He directed 48 films and wrote scripts for 238.[1] His best known films as a director include Children of Hiroshima, The Naked Island, Onibaba, Kuroneko and A Last Note. His scripts were filmed by such directors as Kon Ichikawa, Keisuke Kinoshita, Fumio Kamei and Tadashi Imai.

Shindo was born in Hiroshima Prefecture, and he made several films about Hiroshima and the atomic bomb.[2] Like his early mentor Kenji Mizoguchi, many of his films feature strong female characters. He was a pioneer of independent film production in Japan, founding a company called Kindai Eiga Kyokai. He continued working as a scriptwriter, director and author until his death at the age of 100.

Shindo made a series of autobiographical films, beginning with the first film he directed, 1951's Story of a Beloved Wife, about his struggle to become a screenwriter, through 1986's Tree Without Leaves, about his childhood, born into a wealthy family which became destitute, 2000's By Player, about his film company, seen through the eyes of his friend Taiji Tonoyama, and his last film, Postcard, directed at the age of 98, loosely based on his military service.

Early life and career

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.[3] 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.[4] The other sister married a Japanese-American and went to live in the USA.[1]

In 1933, Shindo, then living with his brother in Onomichi, was inspired by a film called Bangaku No Isshō[n 1] 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,[5] which he joined because he was too short to join the lighting department.[6] 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.[6] 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.[1][6] 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.[6]

When Shinkō Kinema moved from Kyoto to Tokyo in November 1935, many of the staff, who were Kyoto locals, did not want to move.[6] 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.[6] Shindo discovered that very many people wanted to become film directors, including Mizutani, and he decided that he might have a better chance of success as a scriptwriter.[6]

For his work as an art director, Shindo trained under a local artist. He had a talent for sketching which he used in scouting locations, since cameras were less often used in those days.[6] He also wrote a lot of film scripts. His friends severely criticized his scripts, but he persisted.[6] He submitted a script called Tsuchi o ushinatta hyakushō,[n 2] about a farmer who loses his land due to the construction of a dam, to a film magazine and won a prize of 100 yen, four times his then salary of 25 yen a month. However, the script was never filmed.[1]

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.[7] 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[n 3] in 1940.[5] He was asked to write a script by Tomu Uchida but the script was never filmed due to Uchida's untimely military conscription.[1]

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.[8] In April 1944, despite being graded class C[n 4] 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.[1]

At the surrender of Japan, Shindo exchanged his uniform for cigarettes and made his way back to the Shochiku film studio at Ōfuna. The studio was deserted, and Shindo spent his time in the script department reading the surviving scripts.

In 1946, with a secure job as a scriptwriter at Shochiku, he got married to his first wife, Miyo, 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."[9] The duo scored a critical hit with A Ball at the Anjo House in 1947.[5] Shindo wrote scripts for almost all of the Shochiku directors except Yasujirō Ozu.[6]

Shindo and Yoshimura were both unhappy at Shochiku, which viewed the two as having a "dark outlook" on life.[3] 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.

Early career as a film director

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.[10] 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.[1] 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.[8]

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."[3]

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.[3]

By this time Shindo had formed an established "stock company" of actors and crew that he would work with for the majority of his career. This included actors Nobuko Otowa, Taiji Tonoyama and Kei Sato, composer Hikaru Hayashi and cinematographer Kiyomi Kuroda,[n 5][3] who had been fired from the Toei studio for his political beliefs in the "red purge" of the early 1950s, and lost a legal battle for reinstatement.[1]

International success

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."[11] 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.[12] 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.[1]

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."[3] 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,[3] 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."[3]

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."[3]

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.[13]

Around this time, at the age of sixty, his wife Miyo divorced him over his continuing relationship with Otowa.[8]

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.[3]

Later career and death

From 1972 to 1981, Shindo served as chair of the Japan Writers Guild.[14]

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.[3] Shindo also wrote a book on Mizoguchi, published in 1976.[15]

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.[16]

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.[8]

The Strangling was in competition at the 1979 Venice Film Festival, where Nobuko Otowa won the award for Best Actress.

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.[3]

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.

After Otowa's death, her role as lead actress in Shindo's films was taken over by Shinobu Otake. In Will to Live, a black comedy on the problems of ageing, Otake played a daughter with bipolar disorder of an elderly father who has fecal incontinence, played by Rentarō Mikuni.

According to his son Jiro, Shindo gave up his hobbies of Mahjong, Shogi, and baseball at the age of eighty to concentrate on film-making.[17]

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.

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.[8] The film was entered into the 25th Moscow International Film Festival where Shindo won a special award for his contribution to world cinema.[18]

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.

For the last forty years of his life, Shindo lived in a small apartment in Akasaka. After the death of Nobuko Otowa, he lived alone. Although he had been able to walk all over Tokyo in his eighties, he lost mobility in his legs in his nineties. Because of his need for care, Kaze Shindo moved into his apartment and lived with him for the last six years of his life, acting as his caregiver.[8] Kaze Shindo appears in the credits for Shindo's later films credited as "Kantoku Kenkō Kanri",[n 6] "Management of director's health".

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,[19] but did not make the January shortlist. Due to failing health, Shindo announced that it would be his last film.[20][21]

From April to May 2012 a committee in the city of Hiroshima presented a tribute to Shindo to commemorate his 100th birthday.[22] This event included screenings of most of his films and special guests such as Shindo himself and longtime admirer Benicio del Toro.[23]

Shindo died of natural causes on May 29, 2012.[24] According to his son Jiro, he was talking in his sleep about new film projects even at the end of his life.[17] 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.[25]

Style and themes

Shindo said that he saw film "as an art of 'montage' which consists of a dialectic or interaction between the movement and the nonmovement of the image."[3] Although criticized for having little visual style early in his career, he was praised by film critic Joan Mellen who called Onibaba "visually exquisite." When interviewed by Mellen after the release of the film Kuroneko, Shindo stated that there was "a strong Freudian influence throughout all of [his] work."[3]

The strongest and most apparent themes in Shindo's work involve social criticism of poverty, women and sexuality. Shindo has described himself as a socialist. Tadao Sato has pointed out that Shindo's political films are both a reflection of his impoverished childhood and the condition of Japan after World War II, stating that, "Contemporary Japan has developed from an agricultural into an industrial country. Many agricultural people moved to cities and threw themselves into new precarious lives. Kaneto Shindo's style of camerawork comes from this intention to conquer such uneasiness by depicting the perseverance and persistence of farmers."[3]

Women and human sexuality also play a major role in Shindo's films. Joan Mellen wrote that "at their best, Shindo's films involve a merging of the sexual with the social. His radical perception isolates man's sexual life in the context of his role as a member of a specific social class...For Shindo our passions as biological beings and our ambitions as members of social classes, which give specific and distorted form to those drives, induce an endless struggle within the unconscious. Those moments in his films when this warfare is visualized and brought to conscious life raise his work to the level of the highest art."[3]


When asked by Benicio del Toro what the most important thing he had learned from Kenji Mizoguchi was, Shindo replied that the most important thing he had learned from Mizoguchi was never to give up. According to Shindo, although Mizoguchi made more than eighty films, most of them were boring, with only about five or six good films, but without the failures there would never have been successes like Ugetsu Monogatari.[26]




(Shindo wrote the scripts for all the films he directed. He is credited as art director for three of the films he directed, Ningen, Onibaba, and Owl.)

  • 1970 - Strange Affinity (触角, Shokkaku)
  • 1970 - Live Today, Die Tomorrow! (裸の十九才)
  • 1972 - Kanawa (鉄輪(かなわ))
  • 1972 - Sanka 讃歌
  • 1973 - Kokoro () (based on the Natsume Sōseki novel)
  • 1974 - My Way (わが道)
  • 1975 - Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director (ある映画監督の生涯 溝口健二の記録)
  • 1977 - The Life of Chikuzan (竹山ひとり旅)
  • 1978 - Document 8 6 (ドキュメント8.6) (documentary)
  • 1979 - The Strangling (絞殺)
  • 1981 - Edo Porn (Hokusai manga (北斎漫画))
  • 1984 - The Horizon (地平線)
  • 1986 - Burakkubōdo ブラックボード
  • 1986 - Tree Without Leaves 落葉樹
  • 1988 - Sakura-tai Chiru (さくら隊散る)
  • 1992 - The Strange Story of Oyuki (濹東綺譚)
  • 1995 - A Last Note (午後の遺言状)
  • 1999 - Will to Live (生きたい)
  • 2000 - By Player (三文役者)
  • 2003 - Owl (ふくろう)
  • 2008 - Teacher and Three Children 石内尋常高等小学校 花は散れども
  • 2011 - Postcard (一枚のハガキ)


(Not including films he also directed)


(In Japanese except where noted otherwise)


  1. 盤嶽の一生
  2. 土を失った百姓
  3. 南進女性
  4. 丙種合格 (heishu gōkaku)
  5. Kuroda Kiyomi (黒田清巳)
  6. 監督健康管理


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Shindo, Kaneto (2008). Ikite iru kagiri Watashi no Rirekisho [While I live: my resume] (in Japanese). Nihon Keizai Shimbunsha. ISBN 978-4-532-16661-8.
  2. Hirano, Kyoko. "Kaneto Shindo". Film Reference. Retrieved 22 June 2011.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Wakeman, John (1988). World Film Directors, Volume 2. The H. W. Wilson Company. pp. 1021–1027.
  4. Shindo, Kaneto. Genbaku o Toru [Filming the Atom Bomb].
  5. 1 2 3 "Shinario sakka Shindō Kaneto". National Film Center. Retrieved 22 June 2011.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Shindo, Kaneto (21 July 2004). Shinario Jinsei [A life in scriptwriting]. Iwanami Shinsho (in Japanese). 902. Iwanami. ISBN 4-00-430902-6.
  7. Watanabe, Toshio (30 May 2011). "Shindo Kaneto kantoku Hadaka no shima". BS Koramu (in Japanese). NHK. Retrieved 22 June 2011.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Shindo, Kaneto (2012). Nagase, Hiroko, ed. 100 sai no ryugi [The Centenarian's Way] (in Japanese). PHP. ISBN 978-4-569-80434-7.
  9. Anderson, Joseph L.; Richie, Donald (1983) [1959]. The Japanese Film: Art and Industry. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-00792-6.
  10. 1 2 "Shindō Kaneto". Nihon jinmei daijiten+Plus. Kōdansha. Retrieved 22 June 2011.
  11. "Shindo Kaneto". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  12. "2nd Moscow International Film Festival (1961)". MIFF. Retrieved 2012-11-04.
  13. 1 2 "7th Moscow International Film Festival (1971)". MIFF. Retrieved 2012-12-24.
  14. "Shindo Kaneto". Mihara-shi meiyo shimin. Mihara-shi. Retrieved 22 June 2011.
  15. Shindo, Kaneto (27 April 1976). Aru Eiga Kantoku - Mizoguchi Kenji to Nihon Eiga [A film director - Kenji Mizoguchi and the Japanese cinema]. Iwanami Shinsho (in Japanese). 962. Iwanami. ISBN 4-00-414080-3.
  16. "10th Moscow International Film Festival (1977)". MIFF. Retrieved 2013-01-13.
  17. 1 2 "新藤兼人監督死去で新藤次郎近代映画協会社長記者会見". Retrieved 10 September 2012.
  18. "25th Moscow International Film Festival (2003)". MIFF. Retrieved 2013-04-01.
  19. Blair, Gavin J. (8 September 2011). "Japanese Entry for Foreign Language Oscar to Be 'Postcard'". hollywoodreporter.com. Retrieved 2011-09-08.
  20. Schilling, Mark (1 June 2012). "Remembering Kaneto Shindo". Japan Times: 17.
  21. Hall, Kenji (5 February 2012). "LA Times review". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-04-18.
  22. "100 Years of Kaneto Shindo About Us page". Retrieved 2012-04-18.
  23. "100 Years of Kaneto Shindo website". Retrieved 2012-04-21.
  24. Fox, Margalit (1 June 2012). "New York Times Obituary". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-06-02.
  25. "Shindo Kaneto Kantoku "Hadaka no Shima" Sankotsu e". Nikkan Sports.
  26. Kaneto Shindo, Benicio Del Toro (2011). ベニチオ・デル・トロが新藤兼人監督に「映画」の話を聞いた.
  27. "1961 year". Moscow International Film Festival. Retrieved 22 June 2011.
  28. 第 19 回日本アカデミー賞優秀作品 (in Japanese). Japan Academy Prize. Retrieved 2011-01-13.
  29. "21st Moscow International Film Festival (1999)". MIFF. Retrieved 2013-03-23.

Further reading

Mellen, Joan (1975). Voices from the Japanese cinema. Liveright. p. 295. ISBN 0871401010. 

External links

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