Home > Events, Film, Press Release > BFI Season: Two Masters of Japanese Cinema: Kaneto Shindo & Kozaburo Yoshimura

BFI Season: Two Masters of Japanese Cinema: Kaneto Shindo & Kozaburo Yoshimura

A season of films at the BFI not to be missed!

BFI Southbank, London June and July 2012

April 2012 marked the 100th birthday of Kaneto Shindo, one of the leading talents in post-war Japanese film. Throughout June and July BFI Southbank will host a two-part retrospective which pays tribute both to Shindo himself, who sadly passed away in May 2012 and to his friend, colleague and contemporary Kozaburo Yoshimura (1911-2000), one of the neglected masters of classical Japanese film.

June’s programme focuses primarily on the 1950s, the period when their collaboration was closest. Yoshimura and Shindo’s work together constitute a revealing social history and include some of Japanese cinema’s most powerful and moving films. Beginning with a Season Introduction on Wed 6 June by the season’s curator Alexander Jacoby (Lecturer in Japanese Studies at Oxford Brookes University), Jacoby will explore the collaboration between Shindo and Yoshimura situating their work in the social, political and cinematic context of a rapidly changing post-war Japan.

Shindo was a versatile director, skilled screenwriter and pioneer of independent production who has astonishingly remained active into very recent years, releasing his last film, Postcard, at the age of 98. Under contract to Shochiku studios as respectively director and screenwriter, Yoshimura and Shindo initiated a fruitful collaboration with The Ball at the Anjo House (1947), a Chekhovian study of the decline of the pre-war aristocracy, which scooped the top prize in the critics’ poll conducted that year by the leading Japanese film magazine, Kinema Junpo. But both men found their creativity inhibited at Shochiku, and by the early 1950s had established their own independent production company, Kindai Eiga Kyokai. Here, with Yoshimura often serving as his producer, Shindo began to direct a sequence of politically conscious films, tackling issues ranging from the atomic bomb in Children of Hiroshima (1952) to urban poverty in The Gutter (1954).

Meanwhile, at another major studio, Daiei, Yoshimura achieved a new reputation as the director of a sequence of outstanding films about women in the changing post-war Japan, including such little-known gems as Clothes of Deception (1951) and Sisters of Nishijin (1952), which earned him comparison with Kenji Mizoguchi for his sensitive exploration of female experience. Working from Shindo’s carefully constructed scripts, he created some of the Japanese studio system’s most revealing accounts of social change in a rapidly modernising and Westernising Japan.

The collaboration between Kozaburo Yoshimura and Kaneto Shindo continued into the 1960s, with Shindo continuing to script many of Yoshimura’s films. Their work straddled the studio system and independent production, with Yoshimura working primarily within one of the major companies, at Daiei, while Shindo directed for his own independent outfit, Kindai Eiga Kyokai.

Part Two of the season in July concentrates on Yoshimura’s output from his later years at Daiei. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he continued to explore his traditional theme of female experience in a changing Japan. While Shindo scripted many of his films, he also worked with other writers, including Yoshikata Yoda, whose script for Osaka Story had been left unrealised by Mizoguchi at his death. After leaving Daiei, Yoshimura made some films independently, including his final work, The Tattered Banner (1974). Though he lived for another quarter of a century, no more films were to follow. He died in 2000 in Kyoto, the city that had provided inspiration for much of his finest work.

Shindo’s career as director and writer, by contrast, had extended to 2010. From the 1960s, he shifted focus from the realism and explicit political commentary of his earlier work towards a greater stylisation. With Onibaba and Kuroneko, still arguably his best known films in the West, he produced two of the seminal works of Japanese horror, and revealed a new concern with sexual themes. This interest in the erotic is one of the central strands of Shindo’s later work, while other recurring themes include a focus on the lives of artists and, naturally enough for a director who was still active in his 80s and 90s, a concern with the ageing process. All these strands are represented in the selection of films screened during July, which span the period stretching from the 1960s to the 21st century representing the last links to the Golden Age of Japanese film.

Films for Part One of the season can be found on the BFI website.

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