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And life goes on - Hirokazu Koreeda’s relentless faith in humanity

The films of the Japanese maestro are fragile endeavours into everyday struggles to uphold meaning in the face of loss and sorrow.

 

Av 28. sep 2016

This year, Hirokazu Koreeda will be one of the main guests at Films from the South, as part of our exclusive Director's Special Portrait section. Films from the South screens three of his masterpieces: After Life (1998), Like Father, Like Son (2013) and his newest outing, After the Storm (2016). 

(Please read reviews of the films and buy tickets HERE)

Hirokazu Koreeda’s films place themselves almost imperceptibly at the helm of the families at matter – families, always families – and almost always in the wake of a conflict, steering clear of any overblown fracas when the curtains are finally drawn back. His works deal with broken households, agonizing and strenuous relations, though populated with people who refuse to give up, human beings who constantly keep trying in the face of hardship.

His films allow unmentionable events of the past seep to through the cracks; affairs we would rather prefer to have seen elapsed. In his own, controlled manner, he’s able to create liminal spaces for his characters, where tiny ruptures lay confined within everyday routine and conversation, yet never really intruding upon the cinematic façade. He treats the mise-en-scéne with great finesse, perceptively and delicately handling the characters that inhabit his films with unwavering respect. Koreeda has been making feature films for more than twenty years – he’s a mainstay at Cannes – yet at 54, he shows no signs of slowing down: the last ten years the director has made eight films.

”Basically, I like depicting the ”before” and ”after” of an event, not particularly the event in itself,” says the director, who’ll also come to visit the festival this fall. “There are films like that everywhere, and it makes me tired watching those incidents, or accidents, happen on in succession. That’s why I would rather depict the foretaste and afterglow of an incident in stories of everyday life. In Still Walking (2008), I tried to convey the emotional ripple that would never calm after 15 years of the death of the older brother, and the omen of the parents’ inevitable passing in the near future.

In Our Little Sister (2015), even in the original graphic novel, all the dramatic incidents have taken place before the actual story starts: the father’s death, the mother’s remarriage, and the focus lies on how the four sisters live on after these happenings. I’m not trying to find or question the social dynamics, but by observing these moments after and before, I believe I can come close to finding something true in human nature.”

(Our Little Sister, trailer)

A MYRIAD OF LAYERS

In 2013, the critically acclaimed Like Father, Like Son won the Jury Prize at Cannes. It does an astonishing job at conveying life’s so-called in-between: at one point, the main character, a dispirited workaholic, reveals sorely that he didn’t have an easy upbringing – just like his own son in the present. Another director might have brought in sociocultural threads specific to the Japanese family culture, or examined the father’s own resentment, as if to evoke greater meaning. Instead, Koreeda chooses to move on with the story. Yet, it’s not as if these moments fail to register – rather, they align themselves in the emotional landscape, strengthening the alertness towards the here and now. One is easily moved by Koreeda’s ability to interwove a myriad of layers in his complex stories, with neither drowning out each other.

Like Father, Like Son is undoubtedly one of the highlights in an ever more focused career. The cinematic motifs are gradually more distilled without giving in to monomania, but rather salvaging every nuance. Still, the gloom you’ll find in Nobody Knows (2004), the harrowing tale of a group of children left on their own, has gradually dissolved over the years, and the now twelve-year old picture is Koreeda’s last true tragedy. In film after film, the questions posed by the auteur are variations of the same theme: How do we live together? Where lies the limit to one’s autonomy? How much can you give without losing your dignity – but how little can you give without hurting your significant others? These motifs are always present, but as some sort of a lowest common denominator. The films have the look and feel of newness and variation, and still retain their element of surprise. This year’s Films from the South also include early highlight After Life, possibly the most unconventional flick in his filmography, its narrative setting in a sort of purgatory.

(Like Father, Like Son, trailer)

AND LIFE GOES ON...

What’s most gripping about Koreeda’s films might be how they never claim to know the characters better than they know themselves – you’d be hard pressed to find anything like an emotional straightjacket forced upon human beings who are undoubtedly so much more than what we get to see in a mere two hours. A sudden disclosure – a neglected childhood, a lost bond to one’s parents, or a slight discovery, someone remembering something long lost – does nothing to disrupt the narrative flow, or maybe it halts, slightly, but nothing is turned upside down. And life goes on.

 

(After Life, trailer)

CLOSING IN ON SEVERED FAMILY BONDS

After the Storm, the closing feature of this year’s Films from the South, participated in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival in May. It follows Our Little Sister – in my opinion the finest film of 2015, and possibly Koreeda’s masterpiece, in which his meticulous examination of social dynamics might never have been more focused. After the Storm picks up where Still Walking and Our Little Sister left off, closing in on severed family bonds. The main character (thoughtfully played by Hiroshi Abe), a prize-winning author, is left alienated from his mother, his ex-wife and their son. The continuity also lies elsewhere than strictly thematically speaking: The mother/son-constellation, with Kirin Kiki (Naomi Kawase’s Sweet Bean (2015)) and Abe, doubles from Still Walking. And as Koreeda tells me, it was shot parallel to Our Little Sister:

“We were supposed to film Our Little Sister first, but as it chronicles seasons throughout a year, it took a year to film, and in between the shootings, I completed the script of After the Storm. I felt it was right to shoot it there and then, and the producers gave their heads-up. It took about six weeks to shoot After the Storm, which we did in between the shooting of spring, the cherry-blossom season, and hydrangea, the rainy season, in Our Little Sister.” 

(After the Storm, trailer)

A STATE OF INTENSE ATTENTIVENESS

Koreeda’s pictures are tasteful – they thread lightly, much like the characters that inhabit his worlds. Though tempting, contrasting the contemplative tone of his home country with the exalted, Euro-American drama veers too close to a simplified dichotomy. Koreeda himself recognizes especially the Japanese master Mikio Naruse as an inspiration, but doesn’t fail to mention Ken Loach, Hou Hsiao-Hsien and – interestingly enough – Robert Benton, best known to Norwegian audiences for Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). National identity aside, Koreeda aligns himself with the finest of humanist cinema. It might stem from, as he tells me, his developing the characters during the shooting of a film, allowing them to flourish in their complexity as they go along. There is no preaching, no judgement, but never indifference.

“After Still Walking, people wondered why I wasn’t more critical towards the mother; due to the lack of judgement, they felt that something was missing. But then someone told me that they liked it because it reminded them of Naruse. There and then, I realized why I hold his films in such high regard. Since then, I’ve consciously come to make films where I don’t pose like a God directing – one who makes judgements on the nature of the characters.”

At their finest, Koreeda’s films envelop the viewer in a state of intense attentiveness in the hours and days that follow, allowing for thoughtful consideration toward one’s immediate surroundings. Put simply, they are lessons in empathy.

 montages

 The interview is a collaboration between Films from the South and online movie magazine Montages.no

 

 

 

(Please read reviews of the films and buy tickets HERE)

CONVERSATION WITH THE DIRECTOR

Film: After Life

Time and date: October 14 at 8.00 pm 

Venue: Filmens hus - Tancred 

In conjunction with this screening, director Hirokazu Koreeda will be interviewed by online movie magazine Montages.

CLOSING FILM 

Film: After the Storm

Time and date: October 15 at 8.00 pm

Venue: Vika kino

Before the screening of this year's closing film at Vika kino, director Koreeda will be introduced on stage.