segunda-feira, 23 de novembro de 2009

Interview with Kaneto Shindo

By Joan Mellen (1972)

Mellen: Was there anyone in particular who inspired you to go into the field of film?
Shindo: There were some. But more than anything else I was interested in the "image". To me "imagery", with its deep associations and imaginative richness, provides a powerful, eloquent medium. Filmmaking is one form of visual imagery, and also an art. I was deeply interested in creating within this art form. In Japan there is a proverb which says "the eye can express as much as the mouth can." [Laughter]

M: Didn't you start first as a screenwriter and only later become a film director? S: Yes, I wrote scenarios first. However, to me the director and the screenwriter should be one. At least ideally. In actuality in Japan, in the filmmaking world, they were and still are considered to be separate skills. I wrote scripts for a long time and gradually became dissatisfied. So I turned to directing.

M: Were there any older Japanese directors who influenced you?
S: Mizoguchi was a major influence.

M: Did you work with him personally?
S: I was his chief assistant director.

M: On which films?
S: Aienkyo [Straits of Love and Hate, 1936], Genroku Chunshingura [The Loyal 47 Ronin, 1942]...

Kyushiro Kusakabe: Aienkyo was an old, good film, wasn't it? Fumiko Yamaji was the actress in it.
S: That's right. I cannot recall exactly, but it must have been made around Showa 12 or 13 [1937 or 1938]. At the time of Genroku Chunshingura I was the art director as well as the chief assistant director for Mizoguchi.

M: Which are your favorite Mizoguchi films?
S: Well, Ugetsu Monogatari [1953] and Saikaku Ichidai Onna [The Life of Oharu, 1952]... Oharu was the film into which Mizoguchi poured everything he had. He was really working hard on it but not for money.

M: Are there any western directors whom you still admire, past or present?
S: Yes, the American Orson Welles and the Russian Eisenstein. They are the best. There are more as well - the Frenchman Godard.

M: Do you still like Godard - [his] political films?
S: I like his earlier films. It seems to me that he has changed very much in his later work; the earlier Godard has vanished.

M: Do you believe any of the young Japanese directors are doing socially interesting films? Are there any directors whom it would be important to include in any discussion of the social consciousness present in the contemporary Japanese films?
S: Yes, I can think of several. Nagisa Oshima, Masahiro Shinoda, Shohei Imamura, and many more, too many.

M: How about Teshigahara?
S: Yes, of course. He is interesting. I admire many young directors. Among older directors, I admire Mizoguchi the most.

M: Not Kurosawa?

S: Oh, yes. I admire him also. [Laughs]

(Hadaka no Shima, 1960)

M: Why do you think so many Japanese directors, including Imamura and yourself, treat the relationship or conflict between civilization and an earlier primitive life? Your The Naked Island is a renowned example.
S: Yes, the tendency has been rather popular among Japanese filmmakers for the past five or six years. The reason is that since the latter half of the nineteenth century, we have been witnessing the weakening of the human mind. I think this is a universal problem. Consequently, modern man, and I for one, are in the process of reevaluating primitive man's energy and identity. This is a very central question.

M: I find the social dimension of your films very complex and interesting. Would you describe how in your films you depict the class struggle as it appeared both in history and society?
K: Speaking about Onibaba in particular, my main historical interest focuses on ordinary people... their energy to carry themselves beyond the predicaments they encounter daily. I wish to describe the struggles of the so-called common people which usually never appear in recorded history. This is why I made Onibaba. My mind was always on the commoners, not on the lords, politicans, or anyone of name and fame. I wanted to convey the lives of down-to-earth people who live like weeds.

M: In the setting of Onibaba I noticed that the people seemed very small, moving around a lake where the reeds were very tall and imposing.
S: Yes, the tall, swaying reeds are my symbol of the world, the society which surrounds people. In Kuroneko bushes are used for the same symbolic end. Tall, densem swaying reeds represent the world in which these commoners live and to which the eyes of lords and politicians do not reach. My eyes, or rather the camera's eyes, is fixed to view the world from the very lowest level of society, not from the top.

M: Do you consider yourself a Marxist?
S: Ah, Marxist! I am a believer in socialism. I can say that I am a socialist.

M: One can see your very strong sense of the class struggle, both in Kuroneko and in Onibaba. There is a powerful separation in Onibaba between the woman and the daughter-in-law and the rich samurai who has come to die.
S: If you have to look at society through the eyes of those placed on its bottom level, you cannot escape the fact that you must experience and perceive everything with a sense of the political struggle between classes. This sets the general political background of the film.

M: Is it your class consciousness which inspires you as a filmmaker?
S: Yes, I cannot but be class conscious. However, I should like to point out here first I am an artist. not a politician, so I do not see the class struggle as it appears in the political arena. I like to see and describe it as it affects the individual human being, in his daily life. I like to look into the political and class struggle with the eyes of an objective artist. It is easy to view social conflict with political idealism, or at least with the tainted eyes of political desire. I strive to avoid this by all means. After all, struggles are endemic to our society as it is. I am saying that with an artist's eyes, I would like to see problems as they face working people who are the protagonists in my films. I am interested in the way they overcome their difficulties; at least I like to evoke the hope of overcoming, some prospect for the future.

M: Does any character in Kuroneko represent the director?
S: My sympathies are expressed through the peasant mother who is slaughtered with her daughter-in-law at the beginning of the film. In Onibaba, again, the mother is myself.

(Onibaba, 1964)

M: Yet in Onibaba you punish the mother at the end by having her become afflicted with a horrible skin infection.
S: Through punishment I wanted her to escape the confines of her own world, in fact for both women to escape. I punished her, but this punishment is not a kind which ends her world; it does not involve the overt force of punishment alone. I meant this punishment to be a spiritual one, so that through her suffering I could reveal the real soul of the mother herself. After her recovery, we, the mother and the director, are ready for the next step into a new world, the stage which might take us to a new future.

M: You, as the director, at the moment her face is destroyed, are still sympathizing with the mother, rather than with the daughter-in-law, who has the right to live her own life and remarry, rather than be forced to work for this old woman who is not even her own mother?
S: Yes, because she is myself. I am Onibaba.

M: You did not blame her for preventing her daughter-in-law from running away to find a new man?
S: No. I prevented it to heighten the issue between them. As far as the storyline is concerned the mother was punished because she tried to stop the girl from finding a new man. But behind the surface drama there is a story other than the one we are now discussing. It is that everyone in my films, the mother and the daughter-in-law in this case, is invariably an outcast of society. They are people totally abandoned, outside society's political protection. Among these outcasts I wanted to capture their immense energy for survival. Obviously the mother has done very cruel things, like preventing her daughter-in-law from finding another man. She is punished for these acts, but the punishment is an expression of the uncontrollable events which these people meet in their actual lives. My next suggestion is that the destroyed face is not the end of her world. This miserable face will dry later and she will find the day to live again. She has to find it. By destroying her face, I said something about the beginning of a new life for people who are assaulted by unexpected social events.

M: The important thing is for the mother to survive?
S: Yes

(Hadaka no Shima, 1960)

M: Is it similar to the situation in The Naked Island?
S: In that film I expressed the very same thing, but in a more quiet manner. Onibaba is an old Japanese folk tale, a Buddhist tale. I made it into a dramatic, dynamic drama.

M: Are you adapting Buddhist lore to your own particular style of social expression?
S: I adapted the story into a script resonant with the spirit of modern man. It is a modern version of an old traditional story.

M: Is there any special reason why you, as well as other Japanese filmmakers, favour historical settings and legends, fables and old stories for your plots?
S: Well, essentially this is because I am a Japanese. We select certain old stories which have sufficient modern application; I should say stories which have universal and modern implications. I choose one or two out of hundreds. Many are useless for my filmmaking. I am sure that this process of selection must be the same for filmmakers throughout the world.

M: Do Japanese filmmakers choose historical settings so often because the Japanese feel close to their history? There is not so much distance between past and present?
S: When I want to dissect a modern problem, I actually find many similar problems in ancient days. In fact, whithout the many outer layers of so-called modern civilization, the themes I find in old stories are more clear-cut. They are so visible and extreme. I am not saying that all historical eras are similar to today. But by using a comprehensible social structure such as we had in the past, it is much easier for me to convey or recreate modern situations.

M: In many films of yours the same people work again and again, including the technicians. And you have created a company of actors and actresses who work closely with you. Do you feel this is a sucessful means of filmmaking in Japan?
S: Yes, it is. I believe as a director, that having a group of people who can trust each other while working on a film is a very good thing, if it does not exceed a certain degree. Any creative group activity has to depend on a mutual trust and understanding among the members.

M: I hope this question is not out of line. Some say that in your career you have two distinct periods: political work, in which films like Children of Hiroshima stand out, and the films dealing explicitly with sex. How do you explain your sudden interest in making films about sex? For instance, in the panel discussion I participated in for the Manichi Shimbun in Kyoto, Professor Tada of Kyoto University tried to argue that with these latter films you descended greatly in the level of your work.
S: Well, what shall I say? Political thing such as class consciousness or class struggle or other aspects of social existence really comes down to the problem of man alone. So I am essentially intrested in the individual human being. I have to observe closely what a man or woman is. In this process I discovered the powerful very fundamental force in man which sustains his survival and which can be called sexual energy.

M: I don't quite understand. Are you saying that sex expresses, beyond individual need, the vitality of a social class, its capacity to survive?
S: Let's state the whole thing from the beginning. What I meant was that I am interested in man, the solitary person, who is placed in the midst of chaotic surroundings, and when I try to grasp and unfold the problems of society which surround him, I have to know what is within man himself. I cannot escape from looking more closely into what is the essence, the root existence of man. This led me to locate the vital energy of man. This energy is expressed for many in the sexual drive. I consider the focal point of a man's existence to be in sex. This is the basis of my interest.

M: Is it sex as it expresses raw human nature, or sex as it is organized socially by the culture?
S: Well... the sex I have in mind here is not the sex enjoyed behind closed doors. My idea of sex is nothing but the expression of the vitality of man, his urge for survival.

M: Do you feel that your interest in sex is in any way a result of a lack of faith in political action as the means for survival? Is your despair over the possibility of socialism, for example, involved?
S: Now I understand what you're getting at. Well, the answer is no! It is not any lack of faith in political activity or its possibilites. Rather, I should put it that I do not look at political activity as it appears in our society because I am not essentially a politician. I like to observe politics and then articulate my ideas through the eyes of ordinary common people who have their own faults and merits of human nature as well. This is why I am interested in the individual man, and this interest leads me to explore his sexuality.

M: Then this theme of sex does not, as some have tried to say, mean that you reject the possibility of political action in the world?
S: Oh, no. I am not at all pessimistic about political struggle. It is just that as a film director I try to perceive the political in a purely untainted way. In the process of looking into political issues, I pursue man's problems closely. And in order to delve into an individual problem I then directly connect back to its social implication. There is an interaction. Actually I am very much saying something about political activity through the illumination of one man.

(Hadaka no Shima, 1960)

M: Is this artistic quest more interesting to you than the actual pursuit of political goals would be?
S:I think so. But you should not forget that we are dealing with the political when scrutinizing a man's individual nature, needs and problems.

M: Have you had any experience with censorship?
S: No, I don't think I have. There were times when the hands with the scissors got very close to us, though. [Laughter] But we always fought.
Kusakabe: I can explain more. The very name "Shindo" has been effective with those men who perform censorship. His film's always had a formidable reputation as works of art, so people were rather careful with what they did to Shindo's films. Naturally, his films are in no way the same as commercial pornographic films.

M: A more specific problem. Can you describe how you contrasted moments of sound with moments of silence in Kuroneko? Are there any specific points where the sound stops completely?
S: Let me see... I cannot recall now exactly where and in what scenes I have used silence. But I see film as an art of "montage" which consists of a dialectic of interaction between the movement and nonmovement of the image. Probably in order to sustain the even tempo of the film, I have used this idea in the soundtrack. The sudden moments of silence are to heighten the effect of the montage through contrast.

M: Do yourself do the editing for your films?
K: Yes, I do it myself. I have an editor. But generally in Japan today directors spend a great deal of time editing the so-called quality films.

M: I was intrigued by the use of the cat as a symbol in Kuroneko. The cat seemed to accompany the demon woman and I felt that this represented some aspect of Japanese culture with which I was not familiar. What is the force of the cat as a symbol for this film?
S: Let me see. The idea of the cat came to me because the original story was based upon an old Japanese folk tale called "The Cat's Revenge". It was at least partly based on that story. I liked the idea of using the cat because I could thus express the very low position in society which certain people occupy by using so useless and low an animal as the cat.

M: The same emotional level is expressed both by the cat and by your human being?
S: No, it is not at the level of emotion. Only the cat can occupy such a low position in our society. I wanted a strong expression of the degradation of the common man's life in our culture. I hope you understand this point.

M: Is there a Freudian aspect to the relationship between the mother and the son in Kuroneko? Although as a demon the mother must kill her son, she doesn't want to do it, and the son seems to recognize his mother through the demon.
S: Yes, there is. There is a strong Freudian influence throughout all my work. I have one question. In the United States is there any Freudian influence on films?

M: I would say a minimal one. Italian directors like Bertolucci, Petri, Visconti, Fellini are much more interested in Freud than the American directors.
S: Yes, I agree, particulary in the case of Visconti.

M: When the son in Kuroneko opens the door to his mother at the end of the film do you feel that his desire to rise in society and be accepted as a feudal lord transcends his Freudian Oedipal impulse toward his mother?
S: Even at the end of the film the conflict remains unresolved.

M: Do you fear that when you treat extreme scenes such as rape, murder, insanity, starvation etc... your films have a tendency toward melodrama? Do you consider it a danger?
S: No. I am not bothered by the use of extremes.

M: In Japanese film is it true that melodrama is not considered bad?
S: I should like to state here that my opinion of what melodrama is. I consider melodrama to be a story or a situation created artificially with the sole purpose of attracting an audience's attention. This is contrived very conveniently. If you want to depict a truthful drama, it is permissible to use any means available. Here I mean any possible dramatic situation, including the extreme examples you mentioned. However, this is an area in which true artists are separated from professional craftsmen. If the director, the "creator", intends to produce a truly artistic work, he must carefully choose the most suitable dramatic situation from the many possibilities. This selection is in the director's hands entirely, and the choice determines how fine an artist he is.

M: Then you believe that melodrama per se is not bad, but what counts is how appropriate it is to the needs of the subject?
S: It all depends on the context of the film and what other ideas and devices are employed in it. If you talk of the style of a film, the content often decides the style.

M: Thinking about Kuroneko and Buraikan [dir. Masahiro Shinoda], I am interested in the attitude toward the criminal. The criminal is an example of vitality deflected against the society. Do you consider this an example of the vitality which human beings have for survival?
S: To oppose the law?

M: Yes.
S: You cannot forget here that filmmaking is first of all an art. So, in taking an extreme case like the criminal, you can achieve a strong impact on a society which holds a deceptive "common sense" about the legal versus the illegal. You're illuminating something for the audience in the form of a strong and shocking expression. You should not use criminal violence just for the sake of titillation.

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