Shindo Kaneto (新藤兼人)

Kaneto SHINDO (April 22, 1912 -) is a Japanese movie director and screenwriter. He is a pioneer of independent film in Japan. Chairman of Kindai Eiga Kyokai. Honorary citizen of Hiroshima Prefecture. His grandsons Kaze SHINDO and Rikiya SHINDO are a film director and a ring announcer for DDT Pro-Wrestling respectively.

Personal Profile and Career

He was born in 1912 in Ishiuchi-mura, Saeki-gun County, Hiroshima Prefecture (present-day Itsukaichi-cho, Saeki Ward, Hiroshima City). He was born to a wealthy farmer's family in Ishiuchi-mura, a farming village located over one mountain from Hiroshima City, but his father went bankrupt because he co-signed a loan, and the family split up when he was 14 years old. He was attracted to motion pictures, often commuting to Hiroshima City located on the other side of the mountain and returning home late at night while lighting his way with a paper lantern.

In 1933, he developed aspirations to become involved in film when he was moved by a the film "Bangaku no Issho" (The Life of Bangaku) by Sadao YAMANAKA while he was staying at his elder brother's home in Onomichi. He saved money working as a temporary employee at a bicycle wholesaler for a year and a half before leaving for Kyoto in 1934 with the aid of a detective at the Kyoto Prefectural Police to whom he was introduced by his older brother who was also a detective. The road toward his ambition of becoming a film director was narrow. After one year, he began his career in film with a job drying film at the developing department of Shinko Cinema. This was the year in which Manchukuo came under imperial rule. Far from the world of creativity to which he had aspired, he spent one year wearing wellington boots and doing a tough job as scrubbing and washing. He found a screenplay being used as toilet paper in the toilet of the film studio. This was when he first learned that movies are made from screenplays.

He moved to with Shinko Cinema developing department to Tokyo and managed to make it into the art department. He worked under Hiroshi MIZUTANI, who was an art director and head of the art department. As an art assistant, he worked in artistic design. Despite severe criticism from his peers, he found the time to continue writing and submitting screenplays. He won awards but none of his screenplay were made into films. His neighbor Yoshihito OCHIAI was promoted to director. He made his screenwriting debut with "Nanshin Josei" (A Woman Advancing South) after OCHIAI recommended him to the screenplay department.

In 1941, he went to Kyoto for one year as a building supervisor for Kenji MIZOGUCHI's film, "Genroku Chushingura" (The 47 Ronin).
Mizoguchi would taught nothing to the actors but when asked a question, he simply reply 'please reflect.'
It is for this reason that the actors and staff members including Shindo rebelled. However, he was impressed when he saw the finished result. His contacts made it possible for him to later become Mizoguchi's apprentice.
He wrote a script and submitted it to Mizoguchi, but his work was harshly criticized as 'this is not a script, but a story.'
He was so shocked that he considered committing suicide. Inspired by encouragement from his common-law wife who was a continuity supervisor, he read as many theater scripts as possible and vowed to start anew. His common-law wife contracted tuberculosis, and she died because poverty prevented her from getting sufficient nutrition. This was later portrayed in his first movie as a film director, "Aisai Monogatari" (A Chronicle of My Beloved Wife).

In 1942, he submitted his script to a public call for nationalist film scripts by the Information Bureau, but received only an honorable mention. The winner was Toho's "Shizukanari" (How Quiet) for which Akira KUROSAWA was assistant director.. The winner in the following year was "Kyofu" (Strong Wind). The Director Mizoguchi learned of this, contacted Kaneto and invited him to dinner in Gion for the first and only time in his life.

In 1944, Koa Eiga where he worked, was taken over by Shochiku Ofuna Studios, and he moved to the screenplay department. In April of the same year, before he could write one single script, he was drafted into the Kure City Kaiheidan (Sailor Corps) as a nitohei (second rank officer). Although he was aged 32, he was worked hard by private first-class soldiers who were younger than him, and had to serve as their assistant. His superior officers called him scum, and he would be continuously beaten by a wooden stick until he lost consciousness. This was an era where it was believed that a soldier got stronger the more he was beaten. The majority of the young men at the time were sent to the front line.

In 1945, the war ended while he was serving in the Takarazuka Kaigun Kokutai (Naval Air Fleet). He finished reading all of the theatrical scripts at the Takarazuka Revue library before returning to Shochiku Ofuna Studios. "Taihanso" which he wrote autumn of the same year was made into a film by Masahiro MAKINO. It was ranked fourth in the Kinema Junpo magazine top ten in 1947; the first recognition of his talent.

With the box-office failure of "Mori no Ishimatsu" (Ishimatsu of the Forest) in 1949, the Shochiku executives claimed that 'Shindo's screenplays have too strong a social aspect and they are too dark in nature.'
In response to this, and in order maintain his integrity as a screenwriter, he resigned from Shochiku in 1950. With Yoshimura and Taiji TONOYAMA, he established the Kindai Eiga Kyokai (Modern Cinema Association), which became the precursor of independent productions.

In 1951, at the age of 39 he fulfilled his longstanding ambition to direct with his directorial debut "Aisai Monogatari" (Story of a Beloved Wife). He admitted that he did not want anybody else to write the script because of the personal biographical nature of the content. Daiei Motion Picture Company star actress Nobuko OTOWA read the screenplay and expressed that she earnestly wished to play the role of the wife. She appeared as the lead actress this production and used it as a stepping stone from which to join the Kindai Eiga Kyokai. "Itsuwareru Seiso" (Clothes of Deception), which he took to Daiei, became a major hit in 1951, and it became the crowning work of the Shindo-Yoshimura pairing.

In 1952, he released "Genbaku no Ko (movie)" (Children of the Atomic Bomb), which dealt directly with the atomic bomb for the first time after the war. Shindo had a wife and children, but it was around this time that he took leading lady Otowa as his mistress. Otowa said, 'I don't care that I am in the shadow (not married to him),' and resigned from the Daiei Motion Picture Company that launched her career. She joined the Kindai Eiga Kyokai to which Shindo belonged. In the following year of 1953, his work was shown at the Cannes Film Festival. The United States put pressure on this production, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs attempted block the film from winning a prize. Furthermore, this work created controversy in various countries including West Germany, where it was confiscated by the military officials as an anti-war movie. However, it resonated with voices around the world on opposition to the atomic bomb, and met with a large public response in countries around the world. It received numerous awards including the Peace Prize of the Czech International Film Festival, the United Nations Award of the British Film Academy, and Polish Journalists Association Honorary Award, as well as becoming the world's first anti-nuclear film. This film is still often shown in Europe even now.

He went on to become an independent film maker who directed his own screenplays using his own funds. With the support of the Mingei Theatre company and through donations he released numerous works. However, he was conflicted by the contradiction between art and commercial success; experiencing repeated failures and learning by trial and error.

At around this time, the Japanese movie industry began to show signs of decline, and large film companies began to experience management problems. However, recession in the movies as an industry was also an opportunity for social films and avant-garde films to make great strides. The system under which cinemas were monopolized by large film companies was relaxed, and it became possible for films created by small independent professional film makers to be shown.

There were no funds available for the cinematic poem "Hadakano Shima" (The Naked Island) which had no spoken dialogue and was filmed in 1960. It was filmed on location on the Seto Inland Sea with 2 cast and 11 staff members as a work commemorating the dissolution of Kindai Eiga Kyokai. Filming lasted less than 1 month, and it was made with a budget of only 5.5 million yen. This showed that it was possible to film a high-quality film on an extremely tight budget aimed at a limited audience. It proved that film makers could attain freedom of expression and creativity by distancing themselves from the capital constraints of large film companies. This film received the Grand Prix at Moscow International Film Festival, and Shindo was recognized as an international film maker. There were many offers from film buyers of various countries during the Moscow International Film Festival. He ended up selling the film rights to 62 countries around the world. This enabled him to repay the loan that he had until then.

The production method of "Hadaka no Shima" was as follows.
(all on location.)
(The cast and staff members stayed on location in a camp.)
(Meetings were held in which all staff members participated, and opinions were exchanged with everyone exceeding their original positions.)
Above had a great influence on the production of independent films in the subsequent Japanese film industry.

From then on, he released works that raised social problems such as "Daigo Fukuryumaru" (Lucky Dragon No. 5) and "Sakuratai Chiru" (Fall of the Sakura Troop) with radiation as their subject, "Hadaka no Jukyusai" (A Naked Nineteen-Year Old) based on Norio NAGAYAMA of the multiple shooting incident, "Kosatsu" (Strangling) dealing with domestic violence, "Sei no Kigen" (The Origin of Sex) with a theme of death and impotence, and "Gogo no Yuigonjo" (A Will in the Afternoon) that used aging as its subject. Furthermore, with his principle to 'never refuse a job request,' he worked on numerous scripts for projects sponsored by major movie companies while he produced his own movies at the Kindai Eiga Kyokai. Among them are various productions including great works that left their mark on cinema history, highly talked about productions as well as productions that received little praise, but from the viewpoint that 'a highly talented artist produces many creations,' it can be said that he possesses an outstanding talent. After his wife died, he married Nobuko OTOWA, his mistress as well as his comrade, in 1978.

Included among his highly praised works are: "Shitoyakana Kemono" (Graceful Beast) (1962) directed by Yuzo KAWASHIMA, "Kenkaerejii" (1966) directed by Seijun SUZUKI, " and "Hachiko Monogatari" (Story of Hachi) (1987) directed by Seijiro KOYAMA. His entertainment and mystery films include "Kurotokage" (Black Lizard) (1962) - a musical adaptation of the original work of Ranpo EDOGAWA. Including television dramas and theatrical plays, the scripts that he worked on number as many as 370, and he has received numerous awards.
His theory is, 'drama and life both consist of 3 stages: beginning, conflict, and ending.'
The majority of his directorial productions are artistic works with dominant social themes, but as a screen writer he has many works that have strong entertainment aspect. He also has an artisan-like side to him that enables him to demonstrate a great degree of skill in the genres of comedy and mystery.

Even now, he continues to work actively, and with a 70 year career in film, he is known as one of the oldest filmmakers in the world.. In 2007, he debuted as a leading actor at the age of 95 in "Riku ni Agatta Gunkan" (A Warship That Came Ashore) (directed by Yasuhiro YAMAMOTO), which is a screenplay based on his own experiences in the war. He also has many disciples such as Kazuo IKEHIRO, Seijiro KOYAMA, Shigeki CHIBA, Minoru MATSUI, Uson Kim, Hirotaka TASHIRO, and Kumiko TABUCHI. Furthermore, among almost 100 independent productions that existed during the 1960's, Kindai Eiga Kyokai is the only one that succeeded, still exists today and continues to produce movies.

He was designated a Bunkakorosha (Person of Cultural Merits) in 1997, and awarded the Order of Culture in 2002 for his long service to filmmaking. In 2003, he received the Special Award at the Moscow International Film Festival, where he received the Grand Prix three times. He also received the Kiyoshi TANIMOTO Peace Prize in 2005 for his continued achievements in appealing for peace through the medium of film.

The Kaneto Shindo Award was established in 1996 in praise of the accomplishments of Shindo - the pioneer of independent film in Japan. This award is given to the most talented new director of the year, who is selected only by currently active producers that belong to the Japan Film Makers Association, which consists of 58 independent production companies.