When Kaneto Shindo died Tuesday at age 100, he was not the world’s oldest active director — that honor belongs to Portugal’s Manoel e Oliveira, at 103 — but he had had an amazingly productive and celebrated career, which started in 1934. Among his best-known films abroad are 1960’s “Hadaka no Shima (The Naked Island),” a stark, dialogue-less drama of survival on a remote island, and “Onibaba” (1964), a chilling combination of eroticism and horror set in the chaotic 14th century.
These and similarly serious films, made outside Japan’s studio system, led me to imagine him as a rather austere, forbidding type. When I finally had a chance to interview him at the Nikkatsu Studio in 2000, though, it was for “Sanmon Yakusha (By Player),” a docu-drama he was then shooting about Taiji Tonoyama, a hard-drinking, free-living character actor who had appeared in many of Shindo’s 45 films. Nothing austere about that subject — or Shindo’s sometimes blackly comic treatment of it.