Masaki Kobayashi is considered one of the great cinematic masters of the Japanese immediate post-war era, a generation overshadowed by the towering presence of Akira Kurosawa. No one of that generation of filmmakers was affected quite as strongly by the war as Kobayashi. His most acclaimed films are unflinching explorations into the dark side of Japanese culture, the side that drove men to commit gory suicide for the name of honor and commit horrific atrocities in the name of the Emperor. Kobayashi's exacting professionalism makes his films a visually and emotionally power experience.
Born in February, 1916, in Japan's northern-most island Hokkaido, Kobayashi entered prestigious Waseda University in 1933, where he studied Asian art history. Though he excelled at his studies and was mentored under renowned scholar Yaichi Aizu, Kobayashi eventually left Waseda to enter Shochiku's Ofuna studios. As the threat of war with the West grew ever present, he felt that the future was too uncertain to devote to academics; he wanted to leave something behind. Kobayashi worked as an assistant for a mere eight months before he was drafted and sent to the front in Manchuria. Opposed to the war, which he viewed as senseless, he refused to rise above the position of private. In 1944, he was transferred to the southern Ryukyu Islands, where he witnessed the war's final bloody tumult. There he was captured by the U.S. and held for a year in a detention camp in Okinawa. In the fall of 1946, Kobayashi returned to Shochiku and served for six years as an assistant director under Keisuke Kinoshita.