Kaneto Shindo, a prolific, much-honored scripter and helmer of films including “The Naked Island,” “Onibaba” and 2010’s WWII drama “Postcard,” died on Tuesday of age-related causes. He was 100.
Born in Hiroshima, Shindo joined the now extinct Shinko Kinema studio in 1934 as an apprentice film developer. The following year he moved with the studio to Tokyo, where he learned scriptwriting and worked on the set of legendary helmer Kenji Mizoguchi. In 1943 Shindo was drafted into the Imperial Navy and became one of six in his 100-man unit to survive the war, an experience that became an inspiration for “Postcard.”
After the war, Shindo wrote scripts for helmer Kozaburo Yoshimura at the Shochiku studio. Their long collaboration was successful critically and commercially, but both men, discontent with the strictures of the studio system, left Shochiku in 1950 and founded Kindai Eiga Kyokai. This pioneering indie production house was to be Shindo’s professional base for the next six decades.
Shindo debuted as a helmer in 1951 with the autobiographical drama “The Story of a Beloved Wife,” starring Nobuko Otowa, a talented young thesp who was to become his lover, wife and muse, appearing in many of his pics until her death of liver cancer in 1994.
Shindo first gained international recognition for “Children of Hiroshima,” a drama set in Shindo’s atom-bombed hometown. It preemed at Cannes in 1953, and following this success, Shindo continued to examine contemporary social issues in his work, including the struggles of the underclass, the status of women and the plight of radiation victims.
His international breakthrough came with “The Naked Island,” a dialogue-free drama about a family living an isolated, hardscrabble existence on a small island. Released in 1960, the pic was screened widely abroad, won many prizes, including the grand prize at the Moscow fest, and earned enough at the B.O. to pull Shindo’s company out of the red. Shindo also won acclaim abroad for “Onibaba,” a horrifically gripping, erotically charged 1964 period piece about two peasant women who live by killing lone samurai and selling their armor and swords, until lust and jealousy intervene.
Shindo broadened his genre range in succeeding years to include comedy, crime drama and docus but never lost his interest in deeper themes, including the problems of the aged he explored in late career pics. The 1995 drama “A Last Note,” in which Haruka Sugimura played an elderly actress faced with the death and disability of old friends and colleagues, was showered with honors, included a best director prize for Shindo from the Japan Academy.
Shindo also penned scripts for others, often with a more commercial slant than his own work, including Yuzo Kawashima’s “This Madding Crowd” (1962), Kenji Misumi’s “Kiru” (1962), Yasuzo Masumura’s “Irezumi” (1966), Seijun Suzuki’s “Fighting Elegy” (1966), Kinji Fukasaku’s “Under the Flag of the Rising Sun” (1972), Kon Ichikawa’s “Actress” and Seijiro Koyama’s “Hachi-ko” (1987), which was later remade as “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale,” starring Richard Gere.
After “Postcard” won the Special Jury Prize at the 2010 Tokyo fest, Shindo told the press that it would be his last pic. “While wondering when I might die,” he said, “I kept shooting until the end with the single thought that I had to live and do my work.”
Shindo is survived by son Jiro Shindo, who long worked with Shindo as a producer, and granddaughter Kaze Shindo, a helmer (“Love/Juice,” 2000) in her own right, who served as his caretaker in his last years.