Screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto Dies at 100

Shinobu Hashimoto and Akira Kurosawa

Shinobu Hashimoto, whose screenplays for Akira Kurosawa, Masaki Kobayashi, Mikio Naruse, Tadashi Imai, and Kihachi Okamoto helped catapult Japanese cinema to global prominence, passed away on Thursday. He was 100. Though Hashimoto wrote nearly eighty screenplays, he will likely be most remembered for working with Kurosawa on Rashomon, winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1951. As Stephen Prince wrote here in the Current just last month, Rashomon “brought Japanese cinema to a burgeoning wave of international film distribution that lasted for a generation and was more consequential than any that has existed before or since.”

Hashimoto may never have tried his hand at screenwriting if he hadn’t been laid up in a veterans hospital for four years, recovering from the bout of tuberculosis he’d caught in 1938. Paging through a film magazine, he came across a sample screenplay and decided to write one of his own and send it to the renowned screenwriter and director Mansaku Itami. This first attempt so impressed Itami that he took the younger writer under his wing and advised him to take on a literary adaptation. Hashimoto chose Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s 1922 short story “In a Grove,” and the screenplay eventually caught the eye of Akira Kurosawa. Together, the famous director and unknown screenwriter expanded on the original draft, adding a second Akutagawa story, “Rashomon.” The resulting tale of rape and murder as told from four different perspectives is not only widely credited for introducing Japanese cinema to the western world, its very title has become synonymous with the unreliability of subjective memory.

Hashimoto joined Kurosawa’s collegial yet competitive inner circle of screenwriters who worked on such classics as Ikiru (1952), which, as Margalit Fox notes in the New York Times, originated with “a sheet of paper on which [Kurosawa] had written a single, enigmatic phrase: ‘A man with only seventy-five days left to live’”; Seven Samurai (1954), remade in 1960 as The Magnificent Seven; and The Hidden Fortress (1958), a major inspiration for George Lucas’s Star Wars sagas. In 2006, Hashimoto looked back on these formative years in his memoir, Compound Cinematics: Akira Kurosawa and I.

For Masaki Kobayashi, Hashimoto wrote Harakiri (1962) and Samurai Rebellion (1967), films that, as Prince writes, “savagely deconstruct the nation’s military heritage in ways that go well beyond anything seen on-screen to that date.” Hashimoto also directed three films, most notably I Want to Be a Shellfish (1959), the story of a Japanese soldier falsely accused of war crimes. Hashimoto would be drawn back to this tragically absurd case twice more, writing a version for Yoshihiko Okamoto in 1961 and another for Katsuo Fukuzawa in 2008, his final work as a screenwriter.

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