Kaneto Shindô’s Naked Island (Hadaka no shima, 1960) receives the Blu-ray treatment this week thanks to the UK’s foremost purveyors of highly acclaimed filmic artefacts – Eureka’s Masters of Cinema label. Presenting the intolerably difficult life of a peninsula-dwelling family, Naked Island is a cinematic ode to life separated from civilisation and a masterfully crafted portrait of devotion. Each day, the family travel via boat across the precarious sea to a neighbouring island, gathering fresh water to irrigate their barren fields and pouring it by hand over each of the plants fighting against the odds in this desolate terrain.
Shindô perfectly captures the monotony of this daily chore, crafting a seemingly endless cycle of repetitiveness and the futility of life on the edges of humanity. This incessant sequence of tiresome survival is only broken twice, once for a day trip to a neighbouring town where the advancements of technology are met with fear and trepidation, the other, an untimely occurrence that has a drastic effect on this close-knit family. A film of deep contemplation, Naked Island’s delicate simplicity is perhaps its most endearing quality, leaving it open to a myriad of interpretations. Often seen as a poetic vigil to Japan’s continuous aptitude for overcoming its historical tragedies, Shindô’s sombre tragedy could also be viewed as a celebration of good, honest toil.
Reaching an almost documentary-like level of naturalism, Shindô’s Naked Island enhances the beauty of this rural utopia with a spellbinding score that soars gracefully against this picturesque backdrop – appearing both mesmerising and haunting at the same time, like a haunting vision that’s at one moment as clear as day and gone the next. Combined with the pictorial qualities of the film, this sweeping score captures both the eloquence and rhythmic beauty of nature.
This examination of the residual legacy of the atomic bomb and the Asia-Pacific War somehow manages to simultaneously take pride in the pathos of rural life whilst rallying romantically against its extinction. A film of intense beauty and entrancing deliberation, Shindô’s Naked Island is a tale that articulates very little, yet manages to speak volumes.