Kobayashi Masaki (小林正樹)

Masaki KOBAYASHI (February 14, 1916 - October 4, 1996) was a prominent film director with a lot of outstanding works including 'Ningen no joken' (The Human Condition), 'Seppuku' (Harakiri) and 'Kaidan' (Ghost Stories).

Career

He was born the son of a company worker in Otaru City, Hokkaido. Kinuyo TANAKA, a great actress, was his cousin. He majored in Oriental Arts at the Philosophy Department, Literature Faculty of Waseda University, and studied under Yaichi AIZU. He joined filming of "Kuwa no mi wa akai" (Mulberries Are Red, directed by Hiroshi SHIMIZU) for a month while in school, at the invitation of Kinuyo TANAKA. He graduated from the university in 1941.
His graduation thesis was 'Study of construction date of Muro-ji Temple.'

He joined the Assistant Director Department of Shochiku Ofuna Studios in the same year. Yoshitaro NOMURA joined in the same year. Although he asked Kinuyo TANAKA, his second cousin, to recommend him for the employment exam, she advised him that 'nobody can survive in the movie industry without talent,' and he kept hiding the fact that he was related to Tanaka. In the same year, he worked as an assistant director for "Akatsuki no gassho" (Dawn Chorus, directed by Hiroshi SHIMIZU) and "Kaze kaoru niwa" (Garden with Fresh Breeze, directed by Hideo OBA), and then he was called up for military service. He stood guard at the border with the Soviet Union in Manchuria. He wrote a scenario for "Sakimori" (Soldiers) between his military duties. In 1944, he moved to Miyako Island, where he was engaged in construction of an airfield. In 1945, he greeted the end of the war in Miyako-jima Island, but he was placed in Kadena Prisoner's Camp in the main island of Okinawa.

In 1946, he was demobilized and went back to Shochiku Ofuna Studios, and in 1947 he worked as an assistant director for Keisuke KINOSHITA. He worked as the chief assistant for 11 films from 'Hakai' (Apostasy) in 1948 to 'Nihon no higeki' (A Japanese Tragedy), and he was called the best pupil of Kinoshita. In 1952, he directed a short film 'Musuko no seishun' (My Son's Youth), and he was officially promoted to a director with 'Magokoro' (Sincerity), the script of which Kinoshita wrote, in 1953. Although he directed 'Kabe atsuki heya' (The Thick-Walled Room), a film describing class B/C war criminals imprisoned for a crime they didn't commit, by Kobo ABE's script in the same year, it was held to be released out of consideration to the U.S. (it was released in 1956). Later, his films such as 'Anata kaimasu' (I'll Buy You), which revealed the inside stories of professional baseball, and 'Kuroi kawa' (Black River) in 1957, which described the degeneration of a city with a base, were valued.

With long-term shooting and huge production costs, he made a full-length antiwar film "Ningen no joken" based on Junpei GOMIKAWA's novel, as a huge film in 6 parts with 9 hours 38 minutes, which was released over three years from 1959 to 1961. It excellently depicted the massacre by the Japanese army during the war and the adversity of the intellectual soldier resisting it, and defeat, escape and death, and it received a Mainichi Art Prize, Mainichi Film Awards best director award and Venice International Film Festival Prix de Saint-Georges. Moreover, in 1962, his first period drama 'Seppuku' by Shinobu HASHIMOTO's, which he himself described as 'the densest among my films' received a Jury Special Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival. Next, his first color motion picture, 'Kaidan,' which was based on Yakumo KOIZUMI's novel and adapted to film in an omnibus style, was a huge film of three hours that created an unearthly fantasy world, received another Jury Special Prize from the Cannes International Film Festival, and was then nominated for the Academy Awards, Best Foreign Film, and highly praised as one of the best Japanese films ever. The shooting was done in an abandoned car warehouse, where the stage and grand-scale set were built, and Shigemasa TODA, in charge of art, had his flashes of brilliance in pictures including the sky drawn on the horizon, and Toru TAKEMITSU, in charge of music, fully produced the sound effects as if they were a duet with the picture and acting. Due to the large scale set, long term shooting and large team of 800 staff and cast, the production costs ballooned and the independent studio "Ninjin kurabu" (Carrot club), which produced lots of blockbuster films, went bankrupt under the burden of huge debts.

In 1965 he left Shochiku and signed with Tokyo Movie Co., LTD.

In 1967 he directed 'Joiuchi Hairyo tsuma shimatsu' (Samurai Rebellion), his first film for Mifune Productions, which received a Venice International Film Festival FIPRESCI prize and was chosen as the best film in the top 10 of Kinema Junpo (academic film magazine). In 1968 he turned freelance after 'Nihon no seishun' (Hymn to a Tired Man), and in 1969 he formed 'Yonki no kai' (Team Four Riders) with Akira KUROSAWA, Keisuke KINOSHITA and Kon ICHIKAWA. In 1971 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award as one of the world's 10 greatest directors at the 25th anniversary of the Cannes International Film Festival. From that year forward, he released popular films including 'Inochi bo ni furo' (At the Risk of My Life) directed with Haiyuza Theatre Company, Film and Broadcast Production, and 'Kaseki' (The Fossil) based on Yasushi INOUE's full-length novel and produced at the same time as the television version in 1975.

In 1982 he finished a full-length documentary film 'Tokyo Saiban' (Tokyo Trial), which took about 5 years to piece together from films stored in the U.S. Defense Department, and domestic and international news footage. Although he planned the movie project of 'Dun-Huang' based on Yasushi INOUE's novel and finished its script during this period, he had to give it up due to a disagreement over policy with Yasuyoshi TOKUMA, president of the new Daiei film company. In 1985 he directed 'Shokutaku no nai ie' (Family Without a Dinner Table) featuring the United Red Army Incident based on Fumiko ENCHI's novel. He didn't make any films after this, and retired.

Masaki KOBAYASHI had strong feelings for his cousin Kinuyo TANAKA, a great actress.

In 1985, when Kobayashi himself fell sick, he hurried to establish the Tanaka Kinuyo Award in the Mainichi Film Awards, to be given to an actress contributing to the development of Japanese movies. In his later years he worked on a film biography of Yaichi AIZU, his teacher in college, but on October 4, 1996, he died of cardiac infarction at home in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. He died at the age of 80. He is buried in Shimonoseki City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, where Kinuyo was from and her grave is.