Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kaneto Shindô: Images of Excess - I

Kaneto Shindô
Shindô’s images are full of glut of the most literal sort. He shoots human bodies as a director of a war film may shoot ammunition: objects that are as vulnerable to destruction as they are capable of it. As such, Shindô separates the purely corporeal nature of a human body from its spiritual one – much like directors of pornography or slashers – and thus, identifies them purely as material articles (and later debris).  Therefore, human bodies in a Shindô film do not belong to (or in Shindô’s case, are controlled by) a human being who initiates/performs an action, but are often, centers of action themselves – as such, much like ammunition in a war film, they are battered, they batter, involved in fornication, destroyed, and in some cases, left to crumble – just like they are caressed, repaired, or manufactured. But through all of these, they can never relinquish their status as first and foremost, things with no greater purpose than mere existence (and whatever they can get in the course of it). In Shindô films, characters eat not to sate hunger, but to feed their bodies and keep the mechanism of the bodies functional. The characters in a Shindô film, ugly and always sweating profusely, look as if they belong to the machine yard – not as the workers who run the machines, but as the machines.

Some Shindo bodies, starting with Children of Hiroshima (1952)

And from Kuroneko (1968),

Also, of course, from Onibaba (1964)

While one may equate his treatment of human bodies as a sly form of objectification or even an aesthetical (perhaps moral) precursor to the torture porn that is peddled as horror in the cinema of today (Hostel and Saw, yes, but also the first six minutes of Saving Pvt. Ryan; gratuitous viscera as spectacle), he shoots faces like living entities. Thriving, blooming and flourishing entities. For Shindô, the cut between a long-shot of a human body and a close-up of a human face is not merely a perfunctory or a liturgical exercise, but almost a complete change of scene – as if the two shots on either side of the cut contain two different entities altogether – as such, the cut from a long-shot to a face does not alter just the camera-subject distance, but Shindô’s entire human approach towards the subjects of the two different shots. For while the long-shot contains the body that Shindô has nothing but vulgar disregard for, the close-up contains the intimidating face of a human being. It is in the long-shot that the ghost in a Shindô film lives; it is in the close-up that it becomes a horror. Fortunately for Shindô, there is at least something that he finds worthy of regard (a human face). Unfortunately for him, he shoots it in a state of eternal suspicion.

Below, some of Shindô’s faces - one from Kuroneko and the rest, Onibaba.

Shindo Face

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