Leonard Schrader  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Leonard Schrader (November 30 1943November 2 2006) was an Academy Award-nominated American screenwriter and director most notable for his ability to write Japanese language films and for his many collaborations with his brother Paul Schrader. He earned an Academy Award Nomination for his screenplay for Kiss of the Spider Woman.


Early life and college

Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Schrader was brought up in a strict Dutch Calvinist family and did not see his first film until he was an adult. In 1968, he finished his MFA at the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop where he studied with Nelson Algren, Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Yates, Robert Coover, José Donoso and 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. According to Peter Biskind, Schrader left the U.S. when he received a draft induction notice and returned when he was 28 years old and therefore not eligible to be drafted.

Film career

Early in his career, Schrader collaborated often with his brother Paul Schrader, beginning with Leonard’s first film The Yakuza in 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 Argentinian Manuel Puig, earned him an Academy Award Nomination in 1986. (It also earned William Hurt and Academy Award for Best Actor.)

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: A Life in Four Chapters 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.


Between 1969 and 1971, Schrader taught American literature at Doshisha University and Kyoto University in Japan. During his time there he studied the Yakuza crime families and met Chieko Schrader who became his wife in 1977.


Schrader died at age 62 in Los Angeles, California.

Selected filmography


  • From 1996 to 1999, Scrader taught the screenwriting Master's Thesis class at the University of Southern California.
  • From 1999 to 2003, Schrader taught at Chapman University where he was an associate professor of film.
  • From 2003 until his death, Schrader was Senior Filmmaker-in-Residence at the American Film Institute where he chaired the Screenwriting Department and taught graduate screenwriting.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Leonard Schrader" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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