The Naked Island (1960, Shindô Kaneto)

The Naked Island is about a family of four on a desolate, arid, and incredibly steep island. They have no motor boat and no clean water on the island, so every day they make multiple trips to the mainland for water. There’s a mother, a father, one boy who goes to school on the mainland, and a younger son who fishes. The Naked Island is not their story. They, along with the island, are the film, but the film is not them….

It’s hard to explain. There’s also no dialogue in the film.

The film reminded me of Tati, if Tati had made something dramatic. There’s a great deal of metaphor in the film and its entire treatment of the people removes their humanity, instead turning them into animals with a routine. It’s kind of like a Natural Geographic film about people actually. The film’s beautifully made, beautifully scored (the music is incredibly important), but the director likes foreshadowing a lot. It’s well-done foreshadowing–I’d never seen 8 minutes of visual foreshadowing kept up before–but it puts the audience on its guard. Still, the film is effective in very human ways, but it’s the director’s inflexibility–his adherence to his initial idea–that ultimately hurts the film. Instead of being about the struggle of the human heart, it’s a more generalized struggle of living things.

On an emotional level, The Naked Island could have been about an ant colony, not people. It doesn’t recognize any difference or know why one should differentiate between the two species. Still, it’s an exceptionally lovely film–even though the R2 Masters of Cinema release is the only instance of PAL speedup ever to bother me.

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