[Marxism] Shinobu Hashimoto, Writer of Kurosawa Films, Is Dead at 100
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Fri Jul 20 12:50:23 MDT 2018
NY Times, July 20, 2018
Shinobu Hashimoto, Writer of Kurosawa Films, Is Dead at 100
By Margalit Fox
Shinobu Hashimoto, a screenwriter whose first film, “Rashomon,” became a
touchstone of world cinema, and who went on to collaborate with its
director, Akira Kurosawa, on celebrated pictures like “Ikiru” and “Seven
Samurai,” died on Thursday at his home in Tokyo. He was 100.
His death was confirmed by Tomo Tran of Vertical Inc., the United States
publisher of his memoir, “Compound Cinematics: Akira Kurosawa and I.”
Mr. Hashimoto, who had previously worked as an accountant, was the last
living member of the cadre of screenwriters around Kurosawa (1910-98).
Because Kurosawa liked his screenplays to be written collaboratively,
all of Mr. Hashimoto’s work for him was done with others, including
Hideo Oguni, Ryuzo Kikushima and Kurosawa himself.
Of the writers in Kurosawa’s stable, Mr. Hashimoto was among the
longest-serving, contributing to eight screenplays from 1950 to 1970.
Their other pictures together include “Throne of Blood” (1957), a
reworking of “Macbeth” set in feudal Japan; “The Hidden Fortress”
(1958), an adventure film about a princess escorted in disguise through
enemy territory; and “Dodes’ka-den” (1970), about the residents of a
Mr. Hashimoto’s foremost films were widely known outside Japan and
inspired several Hollywood pictures.
“Seven Samurai” (1950), the story of farmers who hire a band of master
swordsmen to rout the bandits tormenting their village, was remade in
1960 by John Sturges as “The Magnificent Seven,” an acclaimed western
starring Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson.
“The Magnificent Seven” was itself remade in 2016, directed by Antoine
Fuqua and starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke.
“The Hidden Fortress” was acknowledged by the director George Lucas as
having helped inspire his 1977 blockbuster, “Star Wars.”
Perhaps no film of Mr. Hashimoto’s has had more enduring influence than
“Rashomon.” Set in medieval Japan, it recounts the story of the murder
of a samurai and the rape of his wife from four utterly different
perspectives: that of a bandit (played by Toshiro Mifune), the wife
(Machiko Kyo), the spirit of the dead samurai, and a passing woodcutter.
A philosophical exploration of the malleable nature of truth, “Rashomon”
was the first Japanese film to gain wide international acclaim and is
today considered one of the finest motion pictures ever made. It won the
Golden Lion at the 1951 Venice Film Festival and that year received what
was then called the honorary foreign-language film award at the Oscars.
The generic term “Rashomon” has persisted in the English lexicon,
describing an event characterized by conflicting accounts.
Mr. Hashimoto was born on April 18, 1918, in the Hyogo Prefecture in
west central Japan. He enlisted in the army in 1938 but contracted
tuberculosis during his training and spent the next four years in a
A fellow patient there happened to lend him a film magazine, and Mr.
Hashimoto became fascinated by the craft of screenwriting. He began work
on a screenplay about his army experience, a project that took three years.
After he was discharged from the sanitarium, Mr. Hashimoto went to work
as an accountant for a munitions company, writing on the train to and
from the office. His fellow patient had told him that the most eminent
screenwriter in Japan was Mansaku Itami, and with the naïve bravado of
youth, Mr. Hashimoto sent Mr. Itami his screenplay.
Mr. Itami became his mentor, tutoring him in the screenwriter’s art
until his death in 1946.
In the late 1940s, Mr. Hashimoto began work on the screenplay that would
become “Rashomon.” His script was an adaptation of a short story, “In a
Grove,” by the distinguished early-20th-century writer Ryunosuke
Akutagawa, in which different narrators offer conflicting accounts of a
With perhaps even greater bravado, Mr. Hashimoto sent his screenplay,
titled “Shiyu” (“Male and Female”), to Kurosawa.
Meeting with Mr. Hashimoto for the first time in 1949, Kurosawa told him
that he wanted to film the script but that it was too short. In a panic,
Mr. Hashimoto blurted out that he could graft another Akutagawa story,
“Rashomon,” onto the narrative.
The two stories seemed eminently incompatible (“Rashomon,” as it came
from Mr. Akutagawa’s pen, explored the desperate lives of thieves in
medieval Kyoto), and for weeks afterward Mr. Hashimoto cursed his folly.
But Kurosawa — possessed, in Mr. Hashimoto’s words, of a “perfectionism
that exceeded rationalism” — took his rewritten screenplay and rewrote
it yet again.
The finished script, running 88 minutes and credited to both men,
elegantly fuses the plot of “In a Grove” with the setting and title of
“Rashomon,” whose name denotes a historic Kyoto gate.
With his career as a screenwriter underway, Mr. Hashimoto quit his job
at the munitions company.
The idea for his next collaboration with Kurosawa originated,
tantalizingly, with Kurosawa. One day in the early 1950s, he handed Mr.
Hashimoto a sheet of paper on which he had written a single, enigmatic
“A man with only 75 days left to live.”
Mr. Hashimoto’s critically acclaimed result, “Ikiru” (“To Live”), was
released in 1952. It centered on a career civil servant (played by
Takashi Shimura) who, on learning he has terminal cancer, defies
protocol by arranging for a patch of municipal swampland to be
transformed into a public park.
And so Mr. Hashimoto’s collaborations with Kurosawa went. They also
included “I Live in Fear” (1955), about the nuclear threat, and “The Bad
Sleep Well” (1960), a modern-day revenge drama.
As Mr. Hashimoto recalled in his memoir, translated by Lori Hitchcock
Morimoto and published in English in 2015, Kurosawa, like the foreman of
a sequestered jury, sometimes holed up with his screenwriters in an
out-of-the-way inn until a script was complete.
Mr. Hashimoto started his own production company, Hashimoto Pro, in
1974. His other screenplays include “Harakiri” (1962) and “Samurai
Rebellion” (1967), both directed by Masaki Kobayashi, and “The Castle of
Sand” (1974) and “Village of Eight Gravestones” (1977), both directed by
He also directed three of his own screenplays, including the war-crimes
drama “I Want to Be a Shellfish” (1959).
There was no immediate information on his survivors.
Among Mr. Hashimoto’s laurels is the Jean Renoir Award, presented by the
Writers Guild of America for outstanding contributions to international
One of the most striking scenes in his memoir is his account of his
fateful first meeting with Kurosawa, in 1949. The young, nervous Mr.
Hashimoto traveled by train to Kurosawa’s home in Komae, a western
municipality of Tokyo, where they discussed Mr. Hashimoto’s fledgling
script for “Rashomon.”
“Our first meeting ended so simply that it didn’t feel complete,” Mr.
Hashimoto recalled. “We spoke for only one or two minutes, and then I
put my manuscript in my bag.”
Kurosawa recalled their meeting in his own memoir, “Something Like an
Autobiography” (1982, translated by Audie E. Bock), this way:
“This Hashimoto visited my home, and I talked with him for hours. He
seemed to have substance.”
Conflicting accounts? There’s a name for that.
Will Dudding contributed reporting.
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