Legendary Japanese filmmaker Kaneto Shindô directed his 45th feature film Ichimai no Hagaki in 2010 at the tender age of 98. Born in Hiroshima in 1912 Shindô has also written some 158 screenplays, making him easily one of the most prolific filmmakers in world cinema. Shindô’s failure to secure the type of distribution enjoyed by Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, and Ozu remains a mystery. His early films are slightly more visible in the West. In recent times we have enjoyed pristine DVD presentations of The Naked Island (1960), Onibaba (1964) and Kuroneko (1968) and they have afforded us a glimpse into a highly stylised and expressive formal style that is both challenging and invigorating. The latter two titles have also illustrated Shindô’s ability to meld this formal eloquence with popular genres and past theatrical traditions. However the unavailability of Children of Hiroshima (1952) still remains a mystifying aberration. It is certainly the case that as the 1960’s wore on Shindô’s work became less distinctive and his interest in social purpose took a back seat to explorations of sexuality. But as we saw in Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses (1976), sex in its purest form can be a potent political and social weapon. The success of his quasi historical horror film Onibaba isn’t particularly surprising as it retains just enough generic signifiers to satisfy western audiences, and possessed the added draw of an unusually frank exploration of frustrated sexuality.
© Shaun Anderson 2011