Leonard Schrader is undoubtedly the world’s only writer of both English-language and Japanese-language films. He also became the first American screenwriter to have two films in Official Selection at the same Cannes Film Festival when Kiss of the Spider Woman competed against Mishima (which both won awards) in 1985.
Born in Grand Rapids Michigan to a Dutch Calvinist family where film and other forms of pop-culture were strictly forbidden, Leonard Schrader escaped his repressive upbringing and by 1968 finished his MFA at the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop (where he studied with Nelson Algren, Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Yates, Robert Coover, José Donoso, as well as Jorge Luis Borges). Between 1969-73 he escaped even further, slipping by night into the subculture of the Yamaguchi-Gumi (the dominant Yakuza gangster Family in Kyoto) while by day teaching American Literature at Doshisha University and Kyoto University in Japan.
Early in his career, Schrader collaborated often with his brother Paul, beginning with Leonard’s first film The Yakuza (1975), co-written by Paul Schrader, starring Robert Mitchum and directed by Sydney Pollack. Leonard and Paul also co-wrote Blue Collar (1978), a story of defiant auto-workers in Detroit, directed by Paul Schrader starring Richard Pryor and Harvey Keitel, and Old Boyfriends (1979), about a woman’s cross-country trek to visit old flames, directed by Joan Tewkesbury and starring John Belushi, Talia Shire, Keith Carradine, John Houseman. Schrader’s other screenplay credits include such popular Japanese-language films as Tora-san’s Dream of Spring (1979), The Man Who Stole the Sun (Japan’s Best Film of the Year in 1980), and Shonben Rider (1983). In 1982, with wife Chieko Schrader, he co-wrote The Killing of America, a documentary tracing the origins of U.S. violence. During this production, Leonard Schrader collaborated with New York experimental filmmaker, David Weisman. Schrader’s background in Latin American literature and Weisman’s experience with Brazil led them to develop Kiss of the Spider Woman together. Schrader’s screenplay adaptation, based on the avant-garde novel by Manuel Puig, earned him an Academy Award® Nomination in 1986.
|Artwork of Schrader by Scott Brinkley
and Marton Varo
Schrader met renowned Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima while living in Japan. For a decade after the author’s suicide in 1970, Schrader pursued the rights to Mishima’s life, and working with his wife Chieko and brother Paul, he co-wrote the Japanese-language bio-pic Mishima executive-produced in 1984 by George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, and directed by Paul Schrader. Schrader made his directorial debut with Naked Tango (1991) for which he also wrote the screenplay. Produced in Argentina, with the 1925 period “look” overseen by Oscar-winning designer Milena Canonero, the independent film starred Vincent D’Onofrio, Mathilda May, Esai Morales, and the late Fernando Rey. More recently, Schrader has worked as a “script doctor” on feature films.
From 1996 to 1999, Schrader taught the screenwriting Masters Thesis class at the University of Southern California’s Film School: the MFA at USC.
From 1999 to 2003, Schrader revamped the Screenwriting Department (including adding screenwriter Dan O’Bannon as a Visiting Artist) at Chapman University where he was an Associate Professor of Film.
From 2003 until his death, Schrader had been the Senior Filmmaker-in-Residence at the American Film Institute where he chaired the Screenwriting Department and taught graduate screenwriting: the MFA at AFI.
Leonard Schrader passed away on November 2nd, 2006. He is survived by his wife Chieko, and brother Paul.