Hirokazu Kore-eda has quietly amassed one of the most remarkable bodies of work in contemporary Japanese cinema. Quiet not so much in terms of international acclaim, which has been steady and mounting since the release of his first feature Maborosi (1995), but in the increasingly becalmed nature of the works themselves. Even at their tensest (2004’s Nobody Knows) and most despairing (2001’s Distance), Kore-eda’s films seem to operate on the level of a whisper. His latest, Still Walking is a seemingly unassuming miniature capturing one day in the life of a family that builds incrementally and, yes, quietly, into a vast landscape of regret, bitterness, and love. Reverse Shot’s Jeff Reichert sat down with Kore-eda during the Tribeca Film Festival to discuss his work and themes. For more about Still Walking, read Kristi Mitsuda’s Reverse Shot review at indieWIRE.
Reverse Shot: One of the things that strikes me about a lot of your movies is that they’re structured around things that aren’t actually in the film. In Nobody Knows we see the children living without their parents, in Distance, it’s the survivors reflecting on the victims of the gas attacks, and in Still Walking, the family gathers to commemorate a death. How do you go about structuring a film around an absence?
Hirokazu Kore-eda: This isn’t something I’m very conscious of, it’s just the way it comes out. When I was finished working on Nobody Knows, a French reporter at Cannes said to me, “You always portray people who are left behind, and your themes are always about memory and death.” Until she said that I wasn’t really aware of it myself. But there’s something that really resonates with me about that condition of being left behind. In Japanese society dead people have a different sort of presence; if you’ve done something bad, you might say, “Oh, I can’t face my ancestors.” Japanese people are very aware and conscious of the presence and effect of dead people in their everyday lives.
RS: Is this “left behind” feeling somehow then the starting point for your films? There always seems to be something just hanging there unspoken as if the narrative springs from a feeling rather than the other way around.
HK: I think that might be true. I made Hana (2006) after my father passed away. I had a very distant relationship with him—it was very superficial and we never really had deep conversations. But I discovered as I was cleaning out our house a Go board, and I remembered in that moment that my father had taught me how to play Go. In rediscovering that memory, I realized that even after his death I’m able to continue to grow and evolve my relationship with my father. Click here to read the rest of Jeff Reichert’s interview with Hirokazu Kore-eda. And click here to read Kristi Mitsuda’s review of Still Walking.