Column: Hiroshima native Kaneto Shindo’s “last film”

One hundred Japanese soldiers were drafted to make up a military unit. Through lottery, 60 of these men were sent south to a furious battlefield. Another lottery brought the rest of the unit to fight alongside them. Finally, with Emperor Hirohito's declaration that the war was at an end, six managed to cheat death. One of them was a young man who had been working in the film industry: Hiroshima native Kaneto Shindo.

At the age of 99, Mr. Shindo is the oldest film director still active in Japan. Throughout his career, he had kept to himself the desire to make a film based on his own personal experience of the war. For his last film, Mr. Shindo decided to create that film. Fueled by the feeling that he owes his life to the 94 comrades who perished in the war, the film is invested with all that he had held inside for so long. On August 6, “Ichimai no hagaki” (“One Postcard”) was released.

The film tells the story of the bond between the wife of a soldier who suffered ill luck in the lottery and his fellow soldier who survived. The dialogue includes such lines as “How are you still alive?” and “The war hasn't ended yet.” Through these lines, it is as if the voice of the director, who had to use a wheelchair during filming, can be heard. In this age, when movie blockbusters have come to dominate the industry, the unvarnished message of this film touches the heart.

The film “Children of the Atomic Bomb” made Mr. Shindo a celebrated director. The film was shot in his hometown of Hiroshima seven years after the atomic bombing. In his work he has always faced the folly of nuclear weapons head-on. He still has ideas for new screenplays, including one which depicts the moment the A-bomb exploded with a flash and another in which the main character is based on his sister, who helped a woman give birth in the devastated city.

At the film’s premiere in Tokyo, a tearful Mr. Shindo said, “I have to say goodbye to you all.” But Etsushi Toyokawa, who starred in the film, said he has the feeling that Mr. Shindo might make another film. If this comes to pass, it will be the director's 50th film.

(Originally published on August 8, 2011)