Hirokazu Koreeda: Interview

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'Still Walking' confirms Hirokazu Koreeda as a master director. Time Out spoke to him about how he made this gorgeous family comedy

Forty-seven-year-old Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda is best known on these shores for ‘After Life’ (1998), his brilliant evocation of purgatory, and ‘Nobody Knows’ (2004), his fact-based drama about four children abandoned by their mother. His stunning latest, 'Still Walking' is a hushed, philosophical family drama that invites comparisons with Japanese masters such as Yasujiro Ozu and Mikio Naruse.

The title of the film suggests that ‘life goes on’. Is it a mantra you believe in?
‘That’s a bit too emphatic, but it’s true to say the film is based on my personal feelings after my mother’s death and the subsequent birth of my daughter.’

You are described as a humanist. Are you comfortable with that tag?
‘If it’s used to mean “not giving up on humanity” I’d accept that, but otherwise I don’t feel comfortable with it. I believe that any auteur categorised in terms of an -ist or an -ism wouldn’t be able to capture the complex essence of human nature.’

Some reviews have mentioned the resemblance of ‘Still Walking’ to the work of Ozu. Is the comparison warranted?
‘Given that the episode in which the son lets his father down was repeatedly portrayed by Ozu, this will inevitably be compared to him. As for the use of the camera, I think Naruse was more of an influence on me.

‘When I make films, I don’t think of any other directors or their work in terms of the rhythm of the editing or the tenor of the performances. Even so, when I was watching Kirin Kiki (who plays the mother in this film) walking, I recalled Haruko Sugimura in Ozu’s films. Kirin Kiki used to be a member of her theatre company, Bungakuza.’

Do you have any particular techniques for screenwriting?
‘Not as such. As for this film, I depict in detail the reality of daily conversations in Japanese by deliberately omitting the grammatical subjects in the dialogue, and even mixing up the tenses. I suspect this technique won’t come through in translation. It’s a pity.’

The film suggests an unease between the older and younger generations. Is this a reflection of Japanese society?
‘I decided not to think about broad concepts like “Japan” or “society”. Just like the characters in the film, I intended to focus only on their different emotional perspectives on things around the house like pyjamas, tiles, toothbrushes and butterflies.’

How have older audiences reacted to the film in Japan?
‘They were laughing, weeping, nodding in agreement. I found there was quite a strong reaction from elderly Japanese audiences.’

Since completing this film you’ve made ‘Air Doll’, a film about a man who strikes up a relationship with a blow-up doll. Any news of your next film?
‘I’m pondering my next project. I’ve got five ideas but they’re all at the seed stage, so I’ll give them some water and wait for them to sprout. Maybe I’ll be able to decide when the weather gets warm.’

Read our review of 'Still Walking'

Author: Interview: David Jenkins (with thanks to Tomoko Yabe-Johnston for translating)



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