The Naked Island – The Criterion Collection #811 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
May 19, 2016 by Dennis Amith
“The Naked Island” is visually mesmerizing and entertaining considering there is no dialogue in the film. While filmmaker Kaneto Shindo has a long oeuvre of fantastic films which he directed and wrote, “The Naked Island” stands out for its visual style and storytelling. Highly recommended!
Image courtesy of © 1960 Kindai Eiga Kyokai. The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: The Naked Island – The Criterion Collection #811
YEAR OF FILM: 1960
DURATION: 96 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:35:1 aspect ratio, Black and White, Monaural in Japanese with English Subtitles
COMPANY: Janus Films/Toho/THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: May 17, 2016
Directed by Kaneto Shindo
Written by Kaneto Shindo
Produced by Eisaku Matssura, Kaneto Shindo
Music by Hikaru Hayashi
Cinematography by Kiyomi Kuroda
Edited by Toshio Enoki
Nobuko Otawa as Toyo (mother)
Taiji Tonoyama as Senta (father)
Shinji Tanaka as Taro (eldest son)
Masanori Horimoto as Jiro (youngest son)
Director Kaneto Shindo’s documentary-like, dialogue-free portrayal of daily struggle is a work of stunning visual beauty and invention. The international breakthrough for one of Japan’s most innovative filmmakers—who went on to make other unique masterworks such as Onibaba and Kuroneko—The Naked Island follows a family whose home is on a tiny, remote island in the Japanese archipelago. They must row a great distance to another shore, collect water from a well in buckets, and row back to their island—a nearly backbreaking task essential for the survival of these people and their land. Featuring a phenomenal modernist score by Hikaru Hayashi, this is a truly hypnotic experience, with a rhythm unlike that of any other film.
In Japanese cinema, filmmaker/writer Kaneto Shindo has had many noteworth films in his oeuvre. In fact, at the end of his career, Shindo had directed 48 films and wrote 238 scripts.
Known for directing films such as “Onibaba”, “Story of a Beloved Wife”, “Kuroneko”, “A Last Note” to name a few.
And as filmmakers have their muse in their careers, Jean-Luc Godard with Anna Karina, Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren, John Ford and John Wayne, Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, to name a few.
For Kaneto Shindo, he had Nobuko Otawa, his mistress and later his wife. An actress with a long career and one of her most notable films with Shindo was the black-and-white 1960 film, “Hadaka no shima” (The Naked Island).
A film that would star Otawa, Taiji Tonoyama, Shinji Tanaka and Masanori Horimoto.
A film with no spoken dialogue and featuring a modernist score by Hikaru Hayashi, “The Naked Island” is a unique film which would win the Grand Prix at the 2nd Moscow International Film Festival.
And now, “The Naked Island” will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of The Criterion Collection.
“The Naked Island” follows a family of four that live in a tiny island in the Seto Inland Sea. They are the only occupants of the island and they survive by farming.
But it’s a harsh life as the husband and wife must continually row a boat from their island to a neighboring island to get water to water their plants and also provide water for themselves to drink and bathe in.
A harsh life in order to survive, we watch the small family to see how they function as a unit in the course of a year.
“The Naked Island – The Criterion Collection #811” is presented in 1:35:1 aspect ratio in 1080p High Definition. Picture quality is fantastic, the film features great clarity, wonderful detail and sharpness. Black levels are nice and deep and the white and grays are well contrast.
According to the Criterion Collection, “This new high-definition film transfer was created on a Spirit 4K DataCine from a new 35 mm print struck from the original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches and splices were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise management, flicker and jitter”.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
As for the lossless audio, “The Naked Island – The Criterion Collection #811” in Japanese LPCM 1.0 Monaural audio. The lossless soundtrack is crystal clear with no signs of major hissing, crackle or audio pops.
It’s important to note that the film is primarily musically driven and features atmospheric noises, the family laughing but there is no spoken dialogue. The emphasis is primarily on the musical score by Hikaru Hayashi.
According to the Criterion Collection, “the original monaural soundtrack was remastered from a 35 mm optical soundtrack positive. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotope RX 4.”
Subtitles are in English SDH.
“The Naked Island – The Criterion Collection #811” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Featuring the audio commentary by director/writer Kaneto Shindo and composer Hikaru Hayashi.
- Kaneto Shindo – (7:31) Recorded in 2011 featuring Kaneto Shindo as a greeting for “The Urge for Survival”, a retrospective of his work at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
- Benicio Del Toro – (7:41) A 2016 interview with actor Benicio Del Toro, a longtime advocate for Kaneto Shindo’s work.
- Akira Mizuta Lippit – (17:11) A 2016 interview with film scholar Akira Mizuta Lippit.
- Trailer – The original theatrical trailer for “The Naked Island”.
“The Naked Island – The Criterion Collection #811” comes with a five-page foldout which comes with the essay “The Silence of the Sea” by Haden Guest (film historian and curator and director of the Harvard Film Archive).
Having watched many of Kaneto Shindo’s films, “The Naked Island” stands out for its beauty, its tragic storyline but also the harsh reality for rural farmers.
In the case of “The Naked Island”, the film focuses on a family that live in an island as its only occupants.
The island has been cultivated for farming and the parents often have to go to the nearby island to get water (via rowboat) to plant their crops but also provide water for themselves. And also to bring their child to school.
The images of a man and wife having to hold heavy buckets on a stick and balanced on their shoulders, making sure they don’t spill a drop is painful, tiring but its a life that these two are able to survive and provide for their family.
Because they do not live in town and are in their own island. They are isolated from society.
They do not have television, nor are they seen wearing any extravagant clothes. We watch as the family bathes in an outside bucket, a father making shoes for himself and the children and a life focused on maintaining crops for food and also to sell to people in town.
Kaneto Shindo is able to make the film entertaining as it has a documentary-style of filmmaking. Watching these two parents planting and watering their crops, enjoying dinner time with each other, bathing outside and functioning as a normal family, but the fact that they live in an island away from the locals and many other people.
As a viewer, a lot of us can’t fathom the harsh lifestyle that this couple must endure daily, but this is their lifestyle living on the land, living within their means and whatever tools they have on-hand.
What’s interesting is when the children catch a fish and the family goes to the city with their kids to sell the fish to a fishmonger to eat it. And for the two children, seeing shops and also television is rather not interesting for them as the concept of television seems to unphase them.
Of course, as the family are followed for the course of the year and being a Kaneto Shindo film, you can’t expect everything to be all happy-go-lucky. And tragedy presents itself and provides one of the most memorable visuals and scenes of the film.
I was moved by “The Naked Island” as the film presents stunning visuals and a budget for a film that relied on Kaneto Shindo to fund as the film company was near bankruptcy.
The film features a modern score by Hikaru Hayashi and for the most part, a film without dialogue and its visual presentation of telling a story is rather unique and mesmerizing. “The Naked Island” is no doubt a cinematic experience.
The Blu-ray release features fantastic picture quality as black levels are nice and deep, white and grays are well contrast and the monaural soundtrack is crisp and clear with no pops or crackles.
Included is a 2000 audio commentary and also special features recorded in 2016, plus a 2011 retrospective video introduction by Kaneto Shindo.
Overall, “The Naked Island” is visually mesmerizing and entertaining considering there is no dialogue in the film. While filmmaker Kaneto Shindo has a long oeuvre of fantastic films which he directed and wrote, “The Naked Island” stands out for its visual style and storytelling.
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