« Coffee Break | Main | Ip Man 3 »

January 19, 2016



Masahiro Shinoda - 1970
Toho Home Video Region 2

We won't be able to see it until November, but one of the more anticipated films of this year would be Martin Scorsese's version of Silence. Will Masahiro Shinoda's version be more widely available in the U.S. by that time, for comparison? I don't have the answer. If not, hopefully those more scholarly, or merely curious, critics will get the British DVD. Will Scorsese's film encourage greater interest in the films of Shinoda? If the aftermath of The Departed is any indication, with the indifference to Andrew Lau's Revenge of the Green Dragons and the stateside absence of Alan Mak's successful Overheard series, probably not. For myself, I did a little bit of research, trying to find where Scorsese and Shinoda intersect beyond their respective films based on Shusaku Endo's novel.

There are some commonalities between the two filmmakers. The main characters are those who live in the margins of society. Discussions regarding Scorsese and Shinoda also discuss the violent content in their respective films. There might have been more similarity had Shinoda chosen to make more films about Japanese gangsters, the yakuza, but he made one, Pale Flower, with a scene that Kimberly Lindbergs cites as possibly having had an influence on Taxi Driver. I would guess that Paul Schrader, who pretty much introduced the yakuza genre to American audiences, would have been familiar with Shinoda's film. And in Buraikan, written by Shuji Terayama, a character proclaims, "I've always wanted to cut virgin skin". The distance to the Schrader penned, "You should see what a .44 Magnum's gonna do to a woman's pussy you should see", seems very close.

What also links these two lines is that they are spoken by men reacting in the most misogynistic terms to disruptions of traditional social order. In Buraikan, taking place in the late 19th Century, near the end of the Shogunate era, Lord Mizuno is trying to impose a series of "reforms", essentially an imposition of rules against various forms of entertainment and pleasure, especially those enjoyed by members of the lower castes. The ranting passenger, played by director Martin Scorsese, in Taxi Driver is not only a cuckold, but additionally resentful that his wife is with a black man. Both films are about characters navigating their way through cultural changes in their respective environments, 19th Century Edo and 1970s New York City.

There is a casual connection in how those environments are presented. New York City is seen mostly in the form of neon signs, garish lights and movie theater marquees. Shinoda's Edo is more deliberately theatrical and artificial with painting of the era appearing on the walls of buildings. There is also some overlap between the two main characters of each film, each attempting to act heroically in their respective stories. Naojiro Kataoka is a would be actor who finally gets his chance, not on the stage, but as part of the rebellion against Lord Mizuno. Travis Bickle essentially creates a role for himself - the famous monologue is like a play rehearsal, while the Mohawk haircut is part of his costume as vigilante.

I have yet to find Shinoda and Scorsese making comments on each other's films, much less discuss Silence. Where the two have some kind of common ground in their careers is that they began when the film industries of Japan and Hollywood were looking to new directors to attract a younger audience. Shinoda retired from filmmaking in 2003, following the box office and critical failure of his film, Spy Sorge. Eleven years younger, Scorsese has maintained the kind of commercial viability and critical attention to allow him to make a more truly personal film, with retirement unimaginable with several announced future projects. I would hope that even if the two directors don't engage in any dialogue, that there is the kind of discussion that brings about renewed attention to Masahiro Shinoda's films.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 19, 2016 02:29 PM