Hadaka no shima / The Naked Island

Shindô Kaneto - Hadaka no shima / The Naked Island (1960)

An upgrade over nude beaches? Sadly, no.

Director: Shindô Kaneto
Writers: Shindô Kaneto
Date: 1960

Genre: Drama
Description: Stuck on an island, not so ordinary ordinary life, same shit different day, tragedy of life, uphill climb, the difficulties of life, trying to survive, life, living on, Sisyphusian

Cast: Tonoyama Taiji, Otowa Nobuko, Tanaka Shinji, Horimoto Masanori

Crew of note:

Runtime: 95 mins.
Color: Black and White

A farmer’s family of 4 lives on an island in the Japan sea. Everyday they go to work, carrying soil and water from near the shores, and lugs them up the steep cliffs of their island. This is their life, everyday, for the rest of their lives.

Really, a poem more than a film, if that were possible; poetry in laborious motions. It is only fair that I admit, though, that the lack of dialogue can be a bit tiring for one’s attention, and it does take a certain attitude and disposition to do away with the contrivances of a seemingly imposed silence. The music tries to make up for it, and though a little melodramatic, it adds enough insight into each scene that dialogue is often hardly missed. The sounds of pikes cracking the ground, the blasting wind, the beaten shores, the flowing water, the chug of the motor… in fact there are few moments of absolute quiet, with the long spaces between the handful of words filled with ambient noises of their island.

The movie is shot with an almost documentary-ghost-observer like perspective. The intro and outro swoops are an interesting touch–almost like an introduction to National Geographic specials. There are many scenes to be admired, such as the boat scenes and the several long distance shots throughout the film. Documentary film making is supposed to show things as it is, with as little cinematic manipulation as conceivable. I don’t think such a thing is possible though (let’s not get into too theoretical a discussion), but Shindô truly tries to show the island naked of artifice. Again, not entirely possibly, but the effort sure is there.

This is, again (I seem to like reviewing movies like these), one with a very bare plot. The summary is pretty much it, with a few interesting events here and there. Though the looping and repetitive nature of the film feels tiresome, it does so to perfect effect because it is able to emphasize the redundant, never-ending cycle of their Sisyphusian lives. It is a difficult life, indeed, and Shindô is able to help us grasp that feeling of trappedness, the ennui of a tedious life of labor. Yet, at the same time, it is possible to understand the characters, their diligence in the face of a neverending task, and be affected by the great drama that Shindô shows us.

With an economy of words like no other, this movie is able to move. Shindô uses this silence, this resignation to fate, not only to humanize his characters, but to empathize with them as well. The lack of dialogue may be a deterrent for some–and I concede that there are one or two moments when the moment absolutely called for words–but the movie’s charm comes from this reservation. What more can be said?

things to take note of
Shots from long distances
The sounds of the island
Facial expressions

best moment
Boat rides
Climbing the cliffs

why you should watch this
Poetry in motion–this phrase finally makes some sense
If you think your life sucks, think again

rating: 8.6

Plot: B+
Cast: B
Cinematography: A
Music: B
Entertainment: C+

similar movies, maybe:
Imamura Shohei’s “Profound Desire of the Gods”, only with crazy thrown into the mix and in color