(白土三平, real name Okamoto Noboru) was born in Tokyo in 1932. His father, Okamoto Toki, was a famous left-winger artist: his influence on his son's artistical and ideological development is clear and consistent.
Shirato's first approach to art began shortly after he concluded the secondary school, when he started to handle kamishibai
, a typical street-theatre where drawings on thick paper were showed while the narrator read a script. That kind of entertainment was very popular at the time, but all changed with the coming of Television. Having lost his audience, Shirato turned himself into a mangaka. His first productions were distributed through kashihon
market - that is to say, a system where books and mangas were rent, something very similar to libraries.
Since the beginning he enjoyed ninja stories. ninja are the undiscussed protagonists of his works, and - beside an ideological sympathy for those figures - they were very popular in the '50s, so no wonder. But Shirato's point of view on ninja world was sharply different from the common perspective used by movies and books because of its deep realism: there's no place left for magic or superhuman powers, neither the stress is upon sexual, erotic/pulp adventures, the reader instead will find an accurate reconstruction of medieval Japan with all its violence, wrath and cruelty. The use of the past in Shirato's work, anyway, is not only a meaningless historical divertissement
: beyond the mask of feudal times there's the face of modern Japan, so setting the stories in those far away days means pointing out how times haven't changed, and how many injustices and prevarications still survive in the present. Works like Ninja Bugeicho Kagemaru Den
were recognized as mirror of society, kind of Bible for large parts of young japanese population during the student demonstrations in the late '60s: in them, the pessimistic view of reality was tempered by the hope for a better future that one can obtain fighting firmly against a blind and ancient social system (in those days, students were protesting against the decision of the government to join an alliance with the USA). The cultural importance of such a title is confirmed by the cinematographical version by director Nagisa Oshima (known in western countries also as Band of Ninja
). As times passed by, as Shirato's perspective became more and more pessimistic, until the chimaera of a better future faded away: his characters are shown in an hopeless struggle were they are completely and sadly alone.
Meanwhile, Shirato understood that the kashihon
market had too narrow boundaries, and that he needed to rely on publishers in order to obtain a wider distribution for his titles. He then began to work for Garo
, a monthly magazine which contained only selected stories (both relating to art and to the subject matter). Among those pages was first published the long and succesful saga of Kamui
. In addiction, Shirato drew up agreements with other publishers (most of all Shogakukan) which distributed titles like Sasuke
, Kaze no Ishimaru
and a lot of collections of short stories.
Shirato's style may appear rough or disturbing to an eye accustomed to the softer and simpler lines of commercial mangas, but it strikes for its vivacity and dynamism. His pages spread pure energy: Shirato is a master in creating the illusion of movement. Plus, considering the development of his technique through time, it is clear and undiscussed his bent for a more and more deep realism, and this realism pervades also his characters' lives and tempers.
His heroes are often anti-heroes, with weaknesses, dark sides and the 'fault' of fighting always for the losers' side. Many reflections focused on human cruelty, greed and pain, loneliness, honour, misery and happiness, but most of all can be resumed in the opposition between Justice and Unjustice. This strong sense of equity stays at the very basis of Shirato's poetics.