The Naked Island (Kaneto Shindo)
Posted: Mon Dec 18, 2006 1:17 pm
Hadaka no shima
The Naked Island (1960 / Japan / Kaneto Shindo)
This film was made independently by Shindo, as all major companies in Japan refused to invest money in it, though he had already established himself as a film director at that time. He raised about 50 000 dollars I think, and made it on his own.
Now what was the problem of this film?
Fact is that Shindo wanted to make a sound film without any dialogue, and he did!
The story takes place on a small island in Japan in the 60's, where a family of four lead a hard life, having no water or electric light, and also no technological devices. The parents have to bring buckets of water everyday from the nearby mainland, using a small wooden boat, that can only be manouvered by hand. They live from what they grow on the island, and have to take care of it eve ry day. The two boys are both very young and go to school every day on the mainland.
The film shows in beautiful tableaus how these four, and especially the parents, live in the course of a year, mostly through close-ups of the daily routines of watering the plants, collecting the water, and seemingly endless boat trips in between.
As the film takes its time to show these daily struggles of man versus nature in a slow pace, it has nevertheless many cuts, which somehow interrupts the flow of time imo, and doesn't work as intended. Also is the use of no dialogue problematic, as the family and other people at times appear like deaf-mutes, when the director shows us scenes where talk is much needed, but instead of avoiding such scenes, he doesn't know how, and there are some akward moments. At other times this problem is avoided in a good way, and the viewer only gets subtle hints. But the main problem of the film is its portrayal of a patriarchal structure, under which the woman suffers, but which is never condemned. When she tries to rebell two times in the film, it doesn't work out, and in the end she accepts her lot.
The conditions of this are never explained, or why the family doesn't live a "normal" life on shore. The husband is presented as cruel, once slapping his wife so hard in the face, that she falls on the floor, and never showing any signs of affection, even when later in the film one child dies. In the end the director seems to be affirmative of the husbands actions, as life will go on like before.
Besides this hugely problematic portrayal of a japanese family, and some directorial flaws, the film reveals the simple acts of living under such harsh conditions, where almost every movement must lead to a goal, so that like strokes on a canvas, which in the end add up to a full painting, the very act of living becomes a work of art. Each gesture becomes important, as every second of life seems to be squeezed out of the frame, and the pearls of sweat on the forehead and the sucking of water by the plants become metaphors for the struggle of life. The film is a circle of life and death, and shows us that everything in the world is connected, and every living being is dependant on another, while it at the same time glorifies the human spirit and achievement, which creates life out of nothing, and survives under the most extreme conditions. The film can thus be seen as an ode to human endurance.
Recommended for all lovers of Japanese Cinema, and World cinema in general. Personal rating **3/4 / ****
Re: The Naked Island (Kaneto Shindo)
Posted: Tue Dec 26, 2006 11:43 am
Naked Island (1960) Hadaka no shima
Directed by Kaneto Shind (Onibaba, Kuroneko)
Starring Nobuko Otowa, Taiji Tonoyama, Shinji Tanaka, Masanori Horimoto
Visual poetry from start to finish, Following the struggle for survival of man against nature as a family eke out an existence on a small Island off the coast of Japan.
The island is home and/or prison for the family, a desolate dust trap lacking the most basic of amenities including the most important, fresh water. The day is filled with a continuous and endless to-ing and fro-ing to the mainland to collect fresh water which then has to be carried up the steep face of the island to provide water for drinking, bathing and for the crops.
Water is without a doubt the most precious and essential of commodities.
A harsh existence indeed, almost medieval in feel though the fact that they are in a continuous battle against nature rather than working with it does place it firmly in the present.
Silence is golden (so they say) and there is a complete lack of speech throughout the film, for the majority of the story this works perfectly, there is no need for speech as the parents go through the endless routine of fetching, carrying and watering the crops but when one of their sons falls ill the silence feels false, you want to here the worry and anguish as they search desperately for a doctor, but the silence continues, the father finds the doctor but the film cuts before he utters a word.
The story at first gives the sense of a community totally dependent on each other and with everyone on an equal footing, given the directors political leanings its almost a communist allegory but this isnt a fable. The truth is this is a very patriarchal society as noted by A or dictatorship which is revealed when the mother loses her footing whilst carrying two precious buckets of water, one spills emptying its contents into the soil. Her husband approaches with the feel that he will give her some aid and maybe commiserate, but as he reaches her he slaps her so hard she falls to the ground.
There are other pointers that you cant help but notice after this incident that show that the wife/mother is regarded as the lowest ranking of the family, most of the fetching and carrying is done by her including taking her son to the mainland for school while collecting more water at the same time, meanwhile her husband slowly, carefully waters the crops. When it comes to bathing the woman comes last as well, the sons, followed by the father have their bath while she prepares the food, only once everyone and everything else has been dealt with can she finally have a much deserved soak.
The film takes an almost documentary approach to illustrate the meagre existence by which some people choose to live, it is difficult for families to give up a way of living no matter how tough it is when its the way their families have eked out an existence for many generations.
Rhythmically visually poetical, a look into a harsh form of existence that asks no questions and provides no answers. The final shot takes an aerial view of the island, circling slowly, it's only then that you realise just how small and all encompassing the family's world is.
A definite recommendation and vastly different from anything else I've seen from Shindo, quite Bressonesque in its own way.
R2 dvd released by Eureka MoC, beautiful transfer and very good extras including:
Full feaure length commentry from Kaneto Shindo and composer Hikaru Hayashi.
Introduction by Alex Cox
and a 24 page booklet of essays and interviews.
Re: The Naked Island (Kaneto Shindo)
Posted: Tue Jan 02, 2007 8:02 pm
Huhu, nice review Trevor. Id really like to see the film again, and now that the excellent DVD is out theres one further reason to do so.
Glad you liked the film. It does feel a bit unusual for Shindo, although he always directs with great care, deliberately taking a lot of time for his scenes. A viewer of his films has to be patient.