A special program by Francesco Vitucci
Ten years after the release of one of his most touching masterpieces, Like Father, Like Son (2013), Koreeda Hirokazu, a master of contemporary cinema, will be a guest at the thirteenth edition of the Ca’ Foscari Short Film Festival.
He is a poet of the seventh art, who curiously made his debut in the documentary, a genre to which he has always remained bound. In some ways, this has contributed to defining the sincere gaze devoid of useless rhetoric that characterises the sphere for which he is best known, that of subject films, in which he made his debut in 1995 with Maboroshi. In this film, which deals with the delicate theme of suicide, the succession of events is set against an impressionist setting, reflecting the state of mind of its protagonists and from which some traits of his future production emerge, such as his predilection for slow, calm camera movements and the fixity of fields and planes in all their variations in scale. The success and prizes received at numerous festivals, from the Golden Osella in Venice to awards in Chicago and Vancouver, fuelled considerable expectations of the director, which were fulfilled three years later with After Life (1998). Imagining a fantastic limbo, where a series of characters guide the recently deceased into the afterlife, Koreeda tells of the passage from life to death. In 2001, he landed at the Cannes Film Festival with Distance, a film that ponders on the wounds left in the relatives of the victims of a terrorist group called the Arc of Truth, an echo of the events that really happened with the tragic attack in the Tokyo underground by Aum Shinrikyo. A professional turning point for the director through which he understood the importance of a fair and therefore serene atmosphere on the set; in particular, he learns how to relate emotionally to children with the camera. And the children were the leading characters in Nobody Knows (2004), based on a tragic story that occurred in Sugamo in 1988. A mother abandoned her children in a flat and entrusting the eldest to look after the younger ones. The children’s innocence is engulfed and annihilated by the meanness and indifference of adults, all portrayed against the setting of an aseptic Tokyo, which is nothing but a giant with cold, asphyxiated concrete limbs.
In 2006, it was time for Hana, his only costume film (jidaigeki). Memory is at the core of his next film Still Walking (2008): an elderly couple reunite their family on a summer’s day to commemorate the death of one of their sons years back. The collective experience highlights the small conflicts that stem from the inevitable differences that each protagonists reveals about his or her past. Koreeda’s production pace is impressive: in 2009 he produced Air Doll, in 2011 Kiseki, but 2013 was the year of the big breakthrough, when Like Father, Like Son was released. Winner of the Jury Prize and the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, where it also competed for the Palme d’Or, it was so successful that DreamWorks, on the advice of Steven Spielberg who was impressed by the extreme effectiveness of the script, acquired the rights to make a remake. A fortuitous exchange of infants leads a man, dedicated more to his work than to his family, to choose between the child he has raised and the biological one, raised by a humbler, but more loving and dedicated family. The deep sensitivity Koreeda demonstrates is so visceral and, at the same time, so acute that it is extremely touching. All themes dear to his heart, such as the value of memory, the innocence of children, the quality and awareness of relationships, blend together in perfect balance. The director achieves such mastery and awareness, both substantial and technical-formal, that such themes can be found in his next two films, both presented at Cannes: Our Little Sister (2015), which tells the story of three sisters who decide to take in and care for the sister born from another relationship of their father, now dead, in their mother’s house, and After the Storm (2016), which tells the story of a failed writer, addicted to gambling, who attempts to solve his relationship with his son, his ex-wife and his own mother. After a brief genre diversions with the crime-thriller The Third Murder (2017), in 2018 he returned to the fertile ground for which he is considered a master: the family drama. He does so with an absolute masterpiece, by many accounts the peak of his artistic career: Shoplifters. Palme d’Or at Cannes and nominated at the 2019 Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film. A small community, apparently united by kinship ties, lives together in a house counting on the support of a “grandmother” and of a couple, formed by Nobuya, a laundry worker and Osamu, a construction worker, who, one evening, having met a little girl on the street who appears to him to be abandoned and badly treated, decides to take her in.
The extreme overturning of the traditional concept of “family” that Koreeda portrays with micro-camera movements and splendid cinematography, is extremely effective. If, on the one hand, he continues to recognise family as a safe nucleus in which to take refuge, a locus amoenus capable of sweetening the ruthless complexity of a society that is nothing but a chaotic and ruthless jungle, on the other he rejects consanguinity as the matrix that strengthens the bonds within it. The value attributed to them by the very people who define them is closely linked to what one is willing to do, sacrifice and believe, in a perspective that rejects the predeterminism of roles and embraces the ethics of sincere feelings. The family as an institution is questioned also in the emblematic The Truth (2019), a Japanese-French production starring Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche. In recent years he presented Broker (2022) at Cannes, a South Korean production with a completely indigenous cast, while in 2023 he made his Netflix debut by producing his first series entitled The Makanai: Cooking For the Maiko House. During his rich career of more than 30 years, Koreeda Hirokazu has managed to delicately and elegantly carve his name among the greatest figures of contemporary cinema, not only in Japan but worldwide. Much of his work is centred around his desire to capture the complexity of human relationships and the different facets of the soul, which his characters reveal through particular family dynamics and environments, but at the same time convincing in their common everyday life, in which it becomes easy for the spectator to recognise himself. These traits, combined with a reflective style, which has always preferred a composure and hieratic fixity to rapid camera movements, have repeatedly tempted critics, who, driven by the irresistibility of the comparison, have wished to juxtapose his name with giants of the Japanese past, such as Naruse Mikio, but also with pillars of European cinema such as Bergman, Bresson and Ken Loach. Authors to whom he has certainly looked up to, as the director himself has repeatedly stated, but whose teachings he managed to filter through his genius and translate them into a language of his own where he mixed realism and poetry, achieving a balance between three fundamental assumptions: ‘observing’ (kansatsu suru), ‘power of imagination’ (sōzōryoku) and ‘search for memory’ (kiroku or sagasu). Honour to cinema, honour to Japanese cinema, honour to Koreeda Hirokazu.
PENSIERI DAL SET (THOUGHTS FROM THE SET)
Edited by Francesco Vitucci
Cue Press, 2022
An artistic autobiography and, at the same time, an in-depth theoretical text, this book traces the career of Japanese filmmaker Koreeda Hirokazu. By recalling memories and unpublished episodes that occurred during the making of his films – pages that reveal not only Koreeda’s artistic perspective, but also his vision of Japanese society, often the central theme of his films. A reconstruction of his own journey in the world of cinema, a journey that began with his first documentaries and led to major international successes (Father and Son, Jury Prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival).