Hadaka No Shima - Film (Movie) Plot and Review





(The Island)


Japan, 1961


Director: Kaneto Shindo

Production: Kindai Eiga Kyokai (Japan); black and white, 35mm; running time: 92 minutes, English version is 96 minutes. Released 1961, Japan.


Producers: Kaneto Shindo and Eisaku Matsura; screenplay: Kaneto Shindo; photography: Kiyoshi Kuroda; editor: Toshio Enoki; sound: Kunie Maruyama; music: Hikaru Hayashi.


Cast: Nobuko Otowa ( Toyo ); Taiji Tonoyama ( Senta ); Shinji Tanaka ( Taro ); Masanori Horimoto ( Jiro ).


Publications


Book:

Anderson, Joseph, and Donald Richie, Japanese Cinema: Art and Industry , New York, 1960; revised edition, Princeton, New Jersey, 1982.

Articles:

"About the Moviemaker," in Newsweek (New York), 10 September 1962.

Kuhn, Helen, in Films in Review (New York), October 1962.

Gow, Gordon, in Films and Filming (London), December 1962.

Noxor, Gerald, in Cinema Journal (Iowa City, Iowa), no. 3, 1963.

Fradier, George, "Dialogue on the Film The Island ," in UNESCO Courier , April 1963.

"Note," in International Film Guide (London), no. 2, 1965.

Potrel-Dorget, M. L., in Image et Son (Paris), July-August 1978.

Pasquini, C., "Venezia 79: Kosatsu ," in Filmcritica (Siena), vol. 30, no. 298, September 1979.


* * *


Hadaka no shima (The Island) is the thirteenth feature written and directed by Kaneto Shindo, best known for his depictions of women's lives. The film stars Nobuko Otowa who has appeared in most of his films. Released in 1961, it is Shindo's best known work outside Japan.

Constructed like a documentary drama, the film tells the story of a husband (Senta) and wife (Toyo), who live on a small island with their two sons. Their lives are consumed by the necessity of obtaining water from a nearby island twice a day. Like Robert Flaherty's Nanook and Man of Aran , the film focuses on the family's struggle against nature for survival. Hadaka no shima is innovative on two levels. First, the narrative is presented without dialogue. Like F. W. Murnau's silent classic, Der letzte Mann , which is rendered without inter-titles (save one), Hadaka no shima is almost purely visual. Shindo utilizes action, gesture, camera movement, rhythmic editing, close-ups, music and sound effects to make his points.

Second, Shindo experiments with elliptical editing. One scene in particular is noteworthy. On the road Senta and Toyo move towards the audience, carrying their buckets. As soon as they come close to the camera, Shindo cuts and they are once again seen in the distance in the exact position of the opening shot. This device gives the impression of a film loop, serving to emphasize the Sisyphean effort of repeating arduous chores in a never-ending cycle.

The film contains only minimal action. The main events are the accidental spilling of water, which prompts Senta to knock Toyo to the ground; the death of the oldest son after a brief illness; Toyo's reaction to this loss (she deliberately dumps water on the ground and tramples the plants); and, finally, the family's visit to the mainland where they unsuccessfully attempt to sell a fish. The remainder of the film details the twice-daily trips to the main island, the slow climb up the hill, the watering of plants, and the family's eating and bathing.

Shindo is fond of close-ups intercut between long sequence shots. He uses parallel editing, connecting the dining of the family with the eating of the animals, to provide a commentary on the simplicity and poverty of their lives. Shindo likewise includes "pillow shots" similar to the insertions found in Yasujiro Ozu films. Primarily these consist of the image of a small boat which the family uses to row to the main island. The shot functions as a meditative moment which possesses associational meaning like images in a haiku poem.

Shindo offers a portrayal of a primitive way of life, which is contrasted to the frantic mechanized life of the main island. Despite the hardships on the island, the family possesses dignity, perseverance and stamina. Their lives have purpose and meaning. There is joy at the day's end when their labors cease and they can relax with a bath and the communal meal. The couple exhibits a stoicism bred of necessity and the knowledge that life must go on. After Toyo angrily spills the water, she picks herself up and resumes work. Throughout, the family personifies a Buddhist attitude toward life: a sense of harmony with nature, resignation to man's insignificance in the universe, acceptance of the flux of life and death. Hadaka no shima is thus pervaded with a sense of mono no aware , a sad awareness of the transience of all things worldly. This attitude is expressed through the film's dominant metaphor—the island, a small sanctuary surrounded by a vast body of water. Like the famous Zen sand gardens composed of rocks surrounded by raked sand, the island represents everything from the isolated family, to the Japanese people of the island nation, to mankind itself.

Hadaka no shima was critically acclaimed in the United States. Most of the popular critics were taken with its quiet power and simplicity. Only Pauline Kael questioned whether less was really more and wondered at the adulation of such a primitive way of life. Such sentiments were also shared by several Japanese commentators who wondered at the film's foreign popularity and worried about the effect of portraying Japan as an esoteric, primitive people rather than a modern industrial nation. After Hadaka no shima , Shindo turned to new subject matter.

—Patricia Erens

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