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 / ****