Sixty years ago, the writer of this column said about “Genbaku no Ko” (Children of Hiroshima) by Kaneto Shindo: “This is a film only a Japanese director can, and is entitled to, make. And more importantly, he has the duty to make it.”
The columnist went on, “I was so deeply moved by it that it was a while before I could pick up a pen and write about it.”
Shindo died on May 29. He was 100 years old.
Under the Allied occupation, documents and images pertaining to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs were severely censored in Japan. But Shindo’s film pulled no punches in divulging the stark horrors and tragedies that were sealed and almost forgotten. This would become Shindo's signature work, from a director whose lifelong practice was to make only films he wanted to make.
My strongest impression of Shindo is that he was a man of unbending principles who lived his life to the fullest. His pacifism was solidly grounded on his experiences during World War II as a common navy draftee who, by his own account, was “just a middle-aged soldier, worth no more than trash.”
He was beaten and subjected to so much brutality by his own countrymen that he “could no longer tell if the real enemy was America or the Imperial Japanese Navy.” Of his 100 drafted colleagues, 94 died in action.
Shindo made his debut as a director with the autobiographical “Aisai Monogatari” (The Story of a Beloved Wife) with Nobuko Otowa (1924-1994) in the lead role of his late wife. Otowa would later become his wife and lifelong partner.
But when Shindo met Otowa, he was married to another woman and had a new family. I can only guess how trying the situation must have been, but Shindo and Otowa eventually tied the knot years later.
I love this line Otowa wrote in her autobiography: “If the man you love gives you salt, it tastes sweeter than sugar (given by someone you don't love).”
Otowa was battling terminal cancer when she co-starred in “Gogo no Yuigonjo” (A Last Note) directed by her husband. Her performance was superb, and the film became a runaway hit.
Shindo sought nothing but perfection from himself as well as his crew and cast. Many who worked with him often described the experience as “shindoi” (tough), a pun on his name.
I believe he took this reputation along when he shuffled off this mortal coil. It was just in April when I used this column to wish him well on his 100th birthday. I imagine he will soon start shooting a new film on location “Up There.”
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 1
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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