Regarded by many as the best contemporary Japanese filmmaker and
spiritual heir to the master filmmaker and humanist, Ozu Yasujiro,
Kore-eda Hirokazu has been making quiet, deeply affecting films about
childhood, family and death. I told myself not to cry while watching his
new film Like Father, Like Son
at the New York Festival last fall, but
couldn't help tearing up at the end.
Soft spoken and with a gentle
demeanor, Kore-eda is exactly how I imagined him to be when I sat down for an
interview, one early October morning.
of your films deal with family and childhood and this film is no
exception. I'd like to know about the origins of this particular film, which involves a 'switched at birth' story.
KORE-EDA HIROKAZU: For the last
couple of films I tried to incorporate my life in it as much as
possible. I tried to incorporate motifs and things from my life, the
subjects that are close to me. In terms of this movie I think the
starting point was what happened with my daughter. I actually didn't
have very much time to spend with her. While working on my last film, I Wish
I was away for about a month and when I came home after being away for
that duration, she recognized me as a father but I could see that there
is this 'resetting' in her mind as to who I was. She was three at the
time. Then when I was leaving the next day, in the hallway to say good
bye, she said, "Please, come again." [laughs]
It was shocking to
me. Then it came to me that even though we are connected by blood, a
father has a very different existence and relationship, compared to that of a mother to a child. So
I actually panicked. I thought, "this is not good." And based on that
experience it made me to think about the ties between the parents and
the children. Especially time. The time we spend together, compared to
just blood ties - all these went into making this film.So then do you feel closer to Ryota (played by Japanese TV and pop star, Fukuyama Masaharu) more so than Ryudai (Lily Franky)?
right. Ryota. And making him the main character, I thought about who
would be the least appealing character in terms of who you want to raise
your child with. And that was the type I'd like the least.
Fukuyama Masaharu, who plays Ryota is a big star in Japan. Did you have him in mind for the role?
wasn't conscious about him playing the role when I was working on the
screenplay. It was Fukuyama who approached me and wanted to work
together. This offer from him was the starting point. I thought I'd
portray him in a different way than the way he is usually portrayed
before. So that was how it happened.I
couldn't help wondering about your method working with child actors. In
films like Nobody Knows, I Wish and now Like Father, Like Son, you
capture the moments of pure delight in their faces that is too real to
be just them acting and being in characters.
starts with an audition process, forming communication with them to see
whether they understand what I'm saying and I understand what they are
saying - that's where it all starts. Once that communication is formed
with the premise (of the film) then we move from audition into rehearsals.
It's not that I'll pass out the scripts to them or give them lines to
say. It's more of doing a particular scene with me or a person who's
going to play the father and just to see how to say the words, have them
hear through their ears and have them come out of their own. It's a
natural process. Out of hundred children, there are maybe five or six
who I'll be able to interact in this way, with those I'll bring them to
the set. In terms of the lines, I don't feed them lines, I try to
incorporate their words and vocabularies into the lines I create. So i
consider myself sort of borrowing their words and returning them. They
are the inspiration of those lines. I might say something like, 'try to
say something like you did last time or say what you told me the other
day'. That's how I've been working with children the last ten years or
so.Has the Great Eastern
Earthquake that hit Japan and The Fukushima disaster which has been
going on since then changed anything for you as a filmmaker?
it is something that I am conscious of. It's not really about something
that has affected how I express myself. That's something I don't really
know for sure. There's probably a portion which unconsciously
incorporated into my work, but it's not really simple. Of course there
are a lot of works regarding the subject and it's important. But I
really think that we are not going to be able to digest everything
that's happened until, maybe 5 or 10 years down the road, in terms of
its impact on Japanese society.
[He pauses for a long time, then continues]
I think this time, in terms of making this film, there were a couple of
motivations for it. One definitely had to be the earthquake. I think
it really enforced the idea of bonds in Japan. The idea actually became
very trendy. In a way, it wasn't so good in Japan before (in that
regard). But the idea of bonds and people supporting each other and all
of Japan becoming one has become very common in Japan. I've been
thinking about that, about how we can reduce that feeling to a small
community that is family. So I think in terms of how I came up with the
idea for the movie about a man and his bond with his family, I suppose
the earthquake played the role. There
is always a sense of optimism I feel in your movies. Is it your
inherent nature as a filmmaker to portray childhood or the next
generation in an optimistic light? Is it why you always go back to the
subject of family?
In Japan, the word optimism doesn't
have a positive connotation. It has a tinge of 'escape from reality'. I
wouldn't use the word to describe my work. I don't like making films
about downcast or pessimistic side of life. That's just not what I do.
The thing about making movies about family is that it is a troublesome
subject but also essential. Something that you need.I
know that you support the younger generation of filmmakers by producing
their films. Nishikawa Miwa (Dear Doctor, Dreams for Sale) is one of
them. I'm just wondering how you go about supporting certain projects
with younger directors. And can you tell us some young directors you can
think of that we need to know about?
Some of them I
supported have already been in my crew so there is a connection already
there. And when I actually read a script by someone and it seems
interesting, I'd support them. That's usually the process. It may not be
so in the film world, but in the Japanese TV community where I came
from, it is pretty common practice to help younger pupils. And also I
don't have any director friends, so it's a good way for me to make
friends who are directors. [laughs] Young directors, young directors....
[Thinking really hard... asking others]
Nobuhiro (Linda, Linda, Linda
) and Nishikawa Miwa, come to think of it
they are not that young. they are all in their forties. [we all laugh]
Right now, they are the two I can think of...Like Father, Like Son
garnered the Jury Award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and made an appearance in Toronto, New York and AFI film festivals. It will open theatrically on Friday, January 17
at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and IFC Center and in Los Angeles on Friday, January 24
with a national rollout to follow. The film will also be available
nationwide on Sundance Selects' video-on-demand platform, available to
over 50 million homes in all major markets.Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on the world can be found at www.dustinchang.com