The Naked Island

As part of their current season of Japanese films, the National Film Theatre showed The Naked Island (Hadaka no Shima)(1960) yesterday evening. Beautifully photographed in black-and-white widescreen (TohoScope) it tells the story of a family living a desperately hard life on a small island. The parents and their two young boys live on a small, rocky and very hilly island about half a mile off either the Japanese mainland or one of the larger islands, where there is a small village. Several times every day the parents take their small boat to the village to fetch water for drinking and for irrigating their crops growing on the very steep hillside. Laboriously they each carry two large buckets using a yoke up the difficult path to the top of the hill, each at the utter limits of their strength. The older boy attends the school in the village; both children work hard helping with the few livestock and with fishing.

The director, Kaneto Shindô, grew up in a similar poor community, and, remembering the pervading silence, chose to make the film without dialogue. There are natural effects, and we hear the schoolchildren singing in the distance when the boy attends school: and there is a fairly dreadful and repetitive music score in a Westernized style (reminiscent of a bad 1960s Hollywood film). But the family are never seen speaking to each other: on the few occasions when there would be dialogue it's either shown at a distance or the scene omitted altogether.

There is practically no plot: the film concentrates on the exhausting routine, until the older boy contracts a fever and dies. His classmates and teacher come by boat to his funeral at the top of the island's hill. When they have gone the parents resume their routine, until in a burst of delayed grief the mother overturns her bucket and pulls up some of the crop before falling on the ground and weeping: her husband looks on helplessly. It passes: they resume their lives.

The film is very slowly paced but reflects the boring routine without itself becoming boring - just, though after 96 minutes one does begin to feel that enough is enough: the music doesn't help, and a traditional Japanese score would have been more effective. The subdued acting, the tragic situation, and the striking photography (which manages to avoid glamourising the story) are enough to make the film worth watching.

This film is available on DVD

Posted: Sat - July 19, 2008 at 08:43 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM