Masahiro Shinoda

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

6.5 Assassination (aka Ansatsu) (1964)
7.2 Pale Flower (1964)
6.9 Samurai Spy (1965)
7.6 Double Suicide (1969)
6.7 Silence (1971)
6.5 The Petrified Forest (1973)
6.5 Himiko (1974)
7.0 Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees (1975)
7.0 Ballad of Orin (1977)
6.0 Demon Pond (1979)
5.0 Island of the Evil Spirits (1981)

Masahiro Shinoda (Japan, 1931) Killers on Parade (1961)

Kawaita Hana/ Pale Flower (1964) is a yakuza noir, with a soundtrack by composer Toru Takemitsu.

Ansatsu/ Assassination (1964)

With Beauty and Sorrow (1965)

Ibun Sarutobi Sasuke/ The Strange Story of Sarutobi Sasuke/ Samurai Spy (1965), based on Koji Nakada's novel "Ten Heroes of Sanada", is a historical costume drama set in 1614, after Tokugawa seized power. The samurai is no longer portrayed as the supernatural hero of the early chanbara films, but as a case of psychological alienation. The linear plot of the early epics has become a labyrinthine plot. The samurai of this story does very little. Mostly he is passive. Mostly he lets things happen to him. He is clueless about the whole conspiracy around him. Takemitsu again composed the soundtrack.

Tokugawa set up a system of spies to control the empire he created and defend it from the defeated Toyotomi clan. A man is cornered in a dark alley and killed by Tatewaki Koriyama, a Tokugawa spy. A white-clad ninja named Sakon Takatani introduces himself in front of the camera, also a Tokugawa spy but jealous of Tatewaki Koriyama. The spies climb buildings like spiders in the dark of the night and kill silently. Shigeyuki Koremura is the leader of the opposite spy system, the one faithful to the Toyotomi clan. He is assisted by Takanosuke Nojiri. They are no less deadly: they slice the ear of a victims with a smile on their faces. The Sanada clan is neutral. One its spies is Sasuke. All of them are unemployed samurai, now reduced to starvation if they don't accept these demeaning jobs.
Sasuke meets an old acquaitance, Mitsuaki Inamura, a Toyotomi spy. They reach the nearby town, where a Christian, Yashiro, is about to be sentenced to death. Mitsuaki Inamura tells Sasuke that he turned the Christian in, so as to create a diversion and be able to sneak through town unharmed. The Tokugawa clan is trying to stop him because he knows the whereabouts of Tatewaki Koriyama, who has decided to defect to the Toyotomi faction. Sasuke can hardly believe the news, but later he finds Mitsuaki Inamura surrounded by Tokugawa agents. Sasuke kills them all, except the white-clad Sakon Takatani, who jumps from the bridge. Mitsuaki Inamura is wounded but saved. The night, though, someone murders him as they are sleeping in a brothel. The women see Sasuke near the corpse and assume that he killed him.
Sasuke finds shelter in a Buddhist temple where he meets the beautiful Omiyo. She tells him that Shigeyuki Koremura of the Toyotomi clan would like to see him. Sakon Takatani appears out of the blue, accusing Sasuke of having masterminded Mitsuaki Inamura's plan and demanding that Sasuke surrenders Tatewaki Koriyama. Again suspected of a murder (this time of a dancing woman, Okiwa, he was in love with), he is chased by the crowd and saved by Sakon and (surprisingly) delivered unconscious to the house of Jinnai, an old man, apparently a friend of Koremura and clearly a Christian (crucifixes all over the house). Both Shigeyuki Koremura and Takanosuke Nojiri are there to meet with him. Because Sakon rescued him, they think that Sasuke is siding with Tokugawa against Toyotomi. The very girl who was murdered was working for Sakon. They think Sasuke did commit both murders and that he is trying to capture Tatewaki Koriyama by himself. There is damning evidence: a letter written by Tatewaki Koriyama in person to Sasuke asking for help. They offer Sasuke money if he delivers Tatewaki Koriyama as Mitsuaki Inamura was supposed to. Takanosuke Nojiri are there to meet with him. Sasuke instead suspects that Sakon killed both Mitsuaki Inamura and the dancing girl Okiwa hoping that Sasuke would lead him to Tatewaki Koriyama.
Omiyo tells Sasuke that she has been enslaved by Takanosuke Nojiri, and Sasuke advises her to leave as soon as possible, because Sakon may kill anyone. Omiyo, jealous when she hears that Sasuke truly loved the dancing girl Okiwa, runs away, but is kidnapped by the men of the magistrate who is trying to arrest Sasuke. Sakon appears and helps Sasuke, but Omiyo has already been spirited away. Sakon offers money for Tatewaki Koriyama. Sasuke simply asks help to free the girl. Sakon laughs and gives him two men. In return Sasuke gives him the letter that contains the name of the inn where Tatewaki Koriyama is waiting. (Sakon also denies having killed Mitsuaki Inamura).
Sasuke frees Omiyo and also the Christian, Yashiro, who had been left to die a horrible death. They then deliver the Christian to Jinnai, the old Christian man. Yashiro asks the old man about his father. Sasuke asks who is Yashiro's father. The old man replies that Yashiro is the son of Tatewaki Koriyama, who is his (Jinnai's) son, although he reneged on his faith and became a spy. Jinnai doesn't know where his son is. Jinnai tells Sasuke that the magistrate tortured and killed the good priest of the Buddhist temple in order to find out where he, Sasuke, went. Sasuke says that now he knows on which side he is, presumably opposed to Tokugawa and therefore with Toyotomi, i.e. on the same side as Shigeyuki Koremura. Thus he helps Shigeyuki Koremura decode correctly Tatewaki Koriyama's letter, using his son's name as the key, and figures out the location where they can find him.
The location is the shrine where a festival is about to start. Finding Tatewaki Koriyama is like a puzzle, especially in the big crowd of the festival. But Sasuke manages to read all the clues and find the legendary spy. Tatewaki Koriyama has been wounded by Sakon's men when he escaped from Tokugawa: that is the reason that he needs Sasuke's help. The ghostly Sakon and his men appear. A fight breaks out, in the middle of the colorful and noisy festival. Finally Sakon and Shigeyuki Koremura, the leaders of the two armies of spies, fight it out alone. Sakon kills Koremura but Sasuke arrives in time to kill Sakon.
Sakon, the Christians and Omiyo leave town and try to reach the border. Yashiro, who never recovered from the tortures, dies just when they pass it. Sasuke asks Omiyo to marry him. But then Takanosuke Nojiri, Omiyo's master, appears in the mist. Sasuke accuses him of murdering both Okiwa and Mitsuaki Inamura. Takanosuke Nojiri coldly declares that he wants to kill both Sasuke and Omiyo. And that he has just killed Tatewaki Koriyama. They duel in the fields. Sasuke is about to succumb when a friend appears from the mist and kills Sakon.

Captive's Island (1966)

Clouds at Sunset (1967)

Shinju Ten no Amijima/ Amijima Effaced to Heaven by Lovers' Suicide/ Double Suicide (1969), based on Monzaemon Chikamatsu's "The Love Suicides at Amijima" (1703), mixed kabuki theater and cinema. The story is performed by human actors, wearing period costumes, but it is frequently interrupted by "backstage" scenes that reveal the stage and sometimes physically show how the stage is being set up for the scene. "Kurokos" (men dressed entirely in black) wander silently among the actors helping them perform actions or simply following them (a Japanese theatrical tradition). Shinoda shoots the scenes from angles that maximize both the emotional impact and the estrangement, for example from the top. Toru Takemitsu's soundtrack is barely audible.

The film opens with an old puppeteer preparing his marionettes for a show. Someone calls him on the phone and asks about the state of the script. The puppeteer replies that he has found the ideal place for the suicide scene: it will happen in a graveyard. We see him walk over a bridge to explore a ravine. The staff is getting the theater ready for the performance. Notably, they have two lifesize marionettes of two women. Human actors begin the film proper. Koharu, a prostitute, and her lover Jihei are desperate: he is too poor to redeem her paying the sum that she owes to her master. Koharu contemplates suicide rather than continue to have sex with other men for money. The kurokos change the set. Koharu works in a brothel where the wealthy Tahei wants her. He makes fun that she fell in love with the poor samurai Jihei. Jihei married his cousin Osan and started a paper business, but they never made money. A stranger walks by, his face hidden under a big hat. Tahei follows him convinced that it must be a jealous Jihei. However, when Tahei leaves, the stranger removes his hat and the women realize that he is not Jihei: he's a new customer. Meanwhile, Jihei overhears someone saying that Tahei wants to redeem Koharu for himself. Koharu is in a terrible mood and her sadness offends the new customer who claims to be a palace official who walked out of the palace incognito just to have sex with her. The brothel owner tries in vain to cheer her up. She is suicidal. The stranger dissuades her from committing suicide and offers to help pay her debt to the master. She confesses to him the plan to commit double suicide, both Jihei and herself. But she is the only child of her mother, who lives in a slum and would starve if she stopped sending her money. She accepts his offer and is ready to elope with him. Jihei is eavesdropping outside and tries to kill the stranger, but the stranger, also a samurai, is faster and ties him to the gate while he goes upstairs to have sex with Koharu. Tahei finds Jihei tied to the gate and spreads the false rumor that Jihei was caught stealing and invites the crowd to beat up the thief. The stranger stops him and let Jihei punish him. Tahei runs away chased by the crowd. The stranger now shows his face to Jihei and he recognizes his own brother Magoemon, who pretended to be a new customer simply to unmask Koharu's doublecrossing intentions: she is ready to elope with anyone who pays her debt. Jihei is ashamed that he was cheated so easily by Koharu. He curses her. Magoemon reminds him that he has a wife and two children to raise. Magoemon discovers a letter sent by Osan to Koharu but Koharu begs him to keep it from Jihei. The action moves to the humble home and paper shop of Osan and Jihei, ten days later. Osan's mother and Jihei's brother come to visit the couple. The old woman is furious because her husband (Osan's father) heard rumors that someone is paying for Koharu's debt, and the family assumes that it is Jihei. Jihei denies it and explains that a rich merchant, Tahei, wants to marry her. Jihei even puts it formally in writing, swearing to the gods. When they leave, Jihei doesn't say a word to Osan and goes to sleep. Osan is initially relieved and happy but then realizes that Jihei is crying, and assumes that he is still in love with the prostitute. (A kuroko lifts the blanket to show his tears). Osan cries that it's now two years since he last made love to her. Jihei is furious that Koharu let Tahei redeem her rather than committing suicide as she always said she would do: he feels betrayed again. Osan confesses that Koharu acted as a traitor after she wrote a letter begging her to save Jihei. By betraying Jihei, Koharu released him from the pledge of committing suicide with her. Osan and Jihei realize that now Koharu will kill herself rather than marry the man she hates, Tahei. Osan shows Jihei the letter that Koharu sent her in reply to hers. Osan is now hysterical: she feels responsible and wants to save Koharu's life. Osan sends Jihei to redeem Koharu with her own secret savings and even packs her kimonos to pawn. Osan is willing to take her in as a cook. Jihei is ashamed that he caused all this trouble. Osan's father shows up and, finding Jihei dressed to go out in the evening, assumes that he's heading for the brothel. Even worse when he discovers the bundle with Osan's kimonos, ready to be pawned. Osan's father demands a divorce. Jihei almost kills himself but Osan stops him. The father drags Osan away although she is screaming that she wants to stay with Jihei. The children watch horrified. Jihei, petrified, doesn't help her. A kuroko takes the children away. Five kurokos surround Jihei and get on their knees. Jihei goes crazy and destroys the paper shop. The action moves to the brothel. Jihei has redeemed Koharu but doesn't want her to move in with him, pretending to be leaving on a business trip. Jihei's brother Magoemon comes looking for him with the children but doesn't find him because Jihei and Koharu are eloping together. They run over the bridge inspected by the puppeteer in the first scene. It starts raining and she is exhausted. They have decided to kill themselves and they kiss passionately. A kuroko and his shadow follow them. They make love in the graveyard. He cuts his hair and she cuts hers, so they become priest and nun. They wander in the marsh crying. She begs him to kill her and he stabs her with his sword. The kurokos have erected gallows on top of the hill and Jihei hangs himself there. The two bodies are placed on a blanket next to each other.

Outlaws (1970)

The Scandalous Adventures of Buraikan (1970)

Set in the 17th century, and photographed by Kazuo Miyagawa, Chinmoku / Silence (1971) is an adaptation of Shushaku Endo's historical novel "Silence" (1966), with a soundtrack by composer Toru Takemitsu. It's a historical film with a philosophical message driven by parallels with biblical figures: Rodrigues is a Christ figure, Kichijiro is a Judas figure, and Inoue is a Pilate figure. They are surrounded by martyrs and saints, as well as pagans and sinners. It's a nice adaptation but a little overlong, and certainly not as good as the book.

The voiceover introduces the origin of the Protestant movement and the founding of the Jesuit order, and narrates how Jesuit missionaries spread Christianity in Japan until the government started persecuting them. A Japanese man, Kichijiro, smuggles into Japan two Jesuit missionaries from Portugal (who speak English in the film), Rodrigues and Garrpe, who are then sheltered by Christians who live in fear. The newcomers ask about a former padre, Ferreira, who was arrested five years earlier. The villagers say they don't know anything but one of the Jesuits suspects they are hiding something. The Jesuits learn that Kichijiro is a fugitive: his siblings were burned alive at the stakes for being Christians. Kichijiro has become a hero for the local Christians. Villagers tell gruesome stories of Christian missionaries brutally executed by order of the evil judge Inoue. One day the officials round up the village and demand that the illegal Christians be delivered. They take one man as hostage and promise to be back in three days to take more hostages. They come back and take three more hostages. The hostages are asked to step, spit and curse on a holy icon of the Virgin Mary. Only one does it: Kichijiro. The other three are tied to crosses and dropped in the sea, left to drown in front of the entire village, while Kichijiro flees. Rodrigues and Garrpe are escorted out of the village. Rodrigues remains alone and wanders along the sea until he is found by Kichijiro. Rodrigues doesn't want Kichijiro's company but the Japanese sticks to him and proves useful to his survival... until he sells him to Inoue's soldiers. He is taken in chains to a town where people scorn him and throw stones at him. He is taken into custody by a magistrate who speaks English and who tells him that the missionary Ferreira is alive, has renounced his faith and has become a good Japanese citizen, even taking a Japanese name and marrying a Japanese woman. He is tried by Inoue in person, who believes that Christianity is useless to Japanese people and exposes the senseless determination of missionaries to convert non-Christian people. Meanwhile, we see a guilt-ridden Kichijiro paying a geisha to spit in his face. Rodrigues is forced to watch the torture of a couple (a samurai and his wife) who refuse to renounce Christianity. A tearful Kichijiro comes to beg Rodrigues to forgive him, but Rodrigues does not answer. Inoue, who attended a Jesuit school as a child, invites Rodrigues to tea and to discuss why Christianity does not suit Japan. The couple is still tied outside. Inoue is waiting for them to renounce their religion. The man is buried in the ground up to his neck under his wife's eyes and a horserider is ready to smash his head. The wife steps on the Virgin Mary icon to renounce her faith. The wife Kiku is spared but the samurai is summarily executed. The following day Rodrigues is taken to the beach to witness a psychological torture on his buddy Garrpe, who too has been captured. Inoue's soldiers hold a group of farmers hostage and drown them one by one in the sea, telling Garrpe that they will stop if he renounces Christianity. Garrpe dies with them rather than giving in. Kichijiro is back with the geisha, who is amazed that Christians still believe in their god even while they are being tortured and massacred. Rodrigues, still treated more like a guest than a prisoner by Inoue, is taken to a Buddhist temple to meet a Japanese man... who is actually Ferreira under his new name Sawano. He now works for Inoue's anti-Christian propaganda. He is writing a book titled "Falsehoods Revealed." Ferreira is proud that he introduced astronomy to the Japanese. Inoue's official explains laughing to Rodrigues that Ferreira was tortured (hung by the ankles bleeding from the ears to keep him alive). Ferreira sincerely urges Rodrigues to give up: Ferreira has been in Japan for 20 years and understands that Christianity will never take roots in Japan. When the Japanese pretend to become Christian, they simply change the god of the Christians into their own pagan god. Rodrigues is now ashamed of Ferreira, who was his role model. Rodrigues is taken back to the prison and subjected to the same torture: hung upside down by his ankled pit with small cuts in his neck so that he will bleed slowly. Inoue gives him another chance to recant and pulls him up. Rodrigues can hear the other Christians being tortured the same way, slowly bleeding to death. Ferreira tells him that he recanted not because of the torture but because god didn't do anything to save those being tortured. Ferreira tells Rodrigues the obvious truth: god cannot save the Christians being tortured, but he (Rodrigues) can. All he has to do is to say that his god is false. Ferreira accuses Rodrigues of being selfish and tells him that Jesus would recant as a supreme act of love for fellow Christians. Rodrigues finally accepts to recant. Rodrigues starts working for Inoue, gets married to Kiku (who looks disgusted), and is given the name of the dead samurai.

Kaseki no Mori/ The Petrified Forest (1973) is an adaptation of a novel by Shintaro Ishihara.

Himiko (1974) is a historical drama about Japan's ancient queen which, accordingly to legend, descendent from the goddess Amaterasu.

Sakura no Mori no Mankai no Shita/ Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees (1975), based on a shorty story by Ango Sakaguchi, with one of Toru Takemitsu's best soundtracks.

Hanare Goze Orin/ Ballad of Orin (1977)

Yasha-ga-ike/ Demon Pond (1979) is simply a documentary of a performance of the play by Keishi Nagatsuka, directed by Takashi Miike in front of a live audience, which was in turn a modernized version of Kyoka Izumi's 1913 play.

Akuryo-To/ Akuryo Island/ Island of the Evil Spirits (1981) is a trivial continuation of the detective Kindaichi series.

Setouchi Shonen Yakyu-dan/ MacArthur's Children (1984)

Tenseitan/ Allusion (1985)

Yari No Gonza/ Gonza the Spearman (1986): dramma arcaico, cerimoniali sociali.

The Dancing Girl (1989)

Childhood Days (1990), based on Motoo Abiko's manga,

Sharaku (1995)

Setouchi Moonlight Serenade (1997)

Owls' Castle (1999)

Spy Sorge (2003)

(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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