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Cinema Japan: A Wreath for Madame Kawakita

Friday, November 7, 2008
6:30 p.m. Naked Island
Kaneto Shindo (Japan, 1960)

(Hadaka no shima, a.k.a. The Island). Few films transformed the landscape of Japanese cinema—both at home and abroad—like Kaneto Shindo’s mesmerizing Naked Island, “one of the most beautiful cinematic poems the Japanese cinema has given us” (Pariscope). Filmed with a minuscule cast and crew on a nearly deserted, windswept archipelago in southwest Japan, the film chronicles the harsh daily struggle of a family of farmers against winds, land, sun, and even fate. Matching the island itself, Shindo stripped the film down to bare essentials: no words and little conventional “plot,” but a dramatic embrace of natural sound recording and, most of all, a widescreen ’scope format that turns every move and motion—whether human or in nature—into epic poetry. Shindo abandoned the studio system to make this film with his independent production company; its international success saved the company (and the director) from bankruptcy, and proved that independent film in Japan could succeed.

—Jason Sanders

• Written by Shindo. Photographed by Kiyomi Kuroda. With Nobuko Otowa, Taiji Tonoyama. (93 mins, No dialogue, B&W, ’Scope, 35mm, Permission Janus Films/Criterion Collection)