Wednesday, December 05, 2012
Perhaps Kaneto Shindo is less-known than other Japanese classic filmmakers, maybe is because he started as an art director in the late 1930's and became a scriptwriter in the mid-1940's; but after a few years far away from filmmaking (his military service) he became a director. Then today he is also known from those before the war years because he was Kenji Mizoguchi's assistant on some of the master filmmaker films.
I have seen some Shindo films, many he wrote less he directed; maybe his most acclaimed as a director is 1960 Hadaka no shima (The Naked Island) a black and white, no-dialogue film that still haunts me for the visuals and story. But he is also known as the director of Children of Hiroshima that premiered in 1953 Cannes and is the first Japanese film to deal with the subject of the atomic bomb, which had been forbidden under postwar American censorship. Maybe that is why he is also known as "post-war chronicler" for this and other atomic bomb related films he did.
Shindo passed away on May, 2012, two months after his 100 birthday; but after many screenplays (around 160 or more, depending source) and directing approximately 49 films, the last film he wrote and directed is 2010 Postcard, a WWII drama loosely based on his own war experience where from his navy unit of 100 men, he was one of six survivors.
Film story essentially is detonated when Sadazo Morikawa asks Keita, a fellow soldier, that if he dies to give back a postcard to his wife, Tomoko, which he was unable to properly answer -due to censorship- and tell her that he got it. Story moves -back and forth in time- to tell the story of Tomoko and the Morikawa family. Then after the bomb, tells the story of Keita returning home and eventually Tomoko and Keita story becomes one. It is a war story but thankfully you do not see anything graphic about the war.
Postcard is an interesting film not only because story is clearly anti-war and about how to survive after everything is lost, but because has several filmmaking styles. Film starts with us seeing the 100 men unit being instructed about their next assignment which will be executed by officials using a lottery system. These scenes use a filmmaking style that I find belongs more to the one used with huge casts where performers discipline is essential; a style Shindo repeats when Keita tells Tomoko about the night the unit leaves to their certain destiny.
While telling the story of the Morikawa family set before the atomic bomb, film looks really classic Japanese cinema as has many visually fantastic scenes with camera moves, long shots, zooms, wipes and compositions that clearly recall Japanese cinema from the master filmmakers. What surprises is the wry humor that some scenes have not only because scenes are telling about waste of life but also because humor was unusual in Japanese classic cinema.
Style changes when story continues after the bomb to become a lot more contemporary, especially in the use of space and movement. Still, there are a few scenes like when Keita and Tomoko vividly discuss or when Tomoko goes wild before burning her house, that are clearly theatrical, Japanese theater style of course.
In the end what could have been a melodrama thanks to story becomes an unsentimental drama dealing with very unsettling issues and presented with an interesting mixture of Japanese cinema styles that will please your eyes and make the cinema experience easier to ride. Then we cannot forget the unexpected use of wry and theatrical humor in key scenes along the entire film that surely will surprise many familiar with Japanese cinema.
Film was premiered at 2010 Tokyo fest were won the Special Jury Prize, continue collecting honors at 2011 Moscow fest plus other Japanese fests/awards, and was Japan's submission to 2012 Oscar. After watching film wonder why Japan sent this film to Oscar as definitively film is not for general audiences -much less for foreign-language committee Academy members- and if you read mainly viewers reviews you will find that most viewers did not liked film, especially younger ones.
Tend to agree with younger audiences as believe that this film is not for them, this is a film for those that enjoy Japanese cinema, especially films from the Golden Age of Japan cinema and those that for sentimental reasons -or not- have to see the last film by Shindo where he returned to visit the storytelling style of his beginnings after also traveling genres like horror, erotic films, crime, comedy and more.
Absolutely recommend film and this post is also my little homage to a great filmmaker that left us this year but will continue to live throughout his extensive oeuvre. R.I.P.
Watch trailer @MOC