Interview: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Interview: Hirokazu Kore-eda

A master of subtlety and stillness, Hirokazu Kore-eda has crafted a catalogue of intimate family dramas over the course of twenty years. Notorious amongst dedicated foreign film fans, the work of the Japanese auteur has a certified place in the canon of world cinema.

As modern audiences continue to be pulled in by extravagant and zealous filmmaking, Kore-eda persistently provides an engaging counterbalance with deeply emotive stories inspired by the simple beauty of the mundane.

Kore-eda’s latest work, After the Storm continues to shine light on the quotidian. Hiroshi Abe stars as Shinoda Ryôta, a private detective burdened by a gambling addiction and a failed career as a novelist. With the death of his father prompting him to turn to his family and estranged ex-wife, Ryôta is faced with the intricacies of fatherhood and the realisation that not all dreams can become a reality.

We spoke to Kore-eda to discuss sources of inspiration, the importance of detail, and filming at his childhood home.

Q: After the Storm examines the difficulties that come with reaching adulthood and being unable to give up on a long held dream. Is this something you have ever experienced?

A few years ago, I attended the reunion for the 30th anniversary of my high school. It was when I was 48 years old. We were at the turning point of life, standing on the verge of 50 years old. At the reunion, I felt that there was a struggle between giving up and achievement in us, and I came up with this motif.  

Q: You are able to express an extensive amount of detail within your work. In this film, characters show particular vocal ticks and unique habits. How do you work with such high levels of detail?

Details show a depiction of colour of character as well as a relation with someone. It will be a relationship from child to parents, from wife to husband, a result of sharing time beyond the blood relationship. The details are made from my memory and sometimes I find them through the process of observing actors.

Q: You filmed After the Storm at the apartment complex where you grew up in Tokyo. Did this familiar environment provide further inspiration during the filmmaking process?

After my father’s death, my mother started living by herself in a housing complex. When I went back home during the New Year’s holiday, I saw that the kids had left from there and only the trees were grown up. With these changes, I had a feeling to make a film about that housing complex in the future. The first scenery which came to mind was a scene of walking through the complex with grass that had become very beautiful in the morning after a typhoon. Since I was a child, I wondered why the complex was so beautiful after a typhoon. It seems totally different after one night, though nothing is changed from before. I wanted to describe that moment.    

Q: What was the most difficult scene to shoot in this filming location?

The night scene of the octopus slide with the wind, the rain, and the lightning. We had to work with large fans that were very noisy in order to create the storm. Meanwhile the old people living in the housing complex went to bed at 8:00pm, so we were asked to not make noise after that. It didn’t get dark until 7:00pm so really we only had one hour a day to shoot the external storm scene, but we managed to do it in two days. The scene inside the octopus slide was shot in set, so we could do it another time.

Q: How do you approach working with young actors, in this case Taiyo Yoshizawa? Are there films that have influenced the way you construct young characters?

Usually I don’t provide a script to child actors. I only explain the setting of a scene and tell them dialogue verbally - not telling the whole story of a film. I don’t know if I am influenced but if so, that will be Hou Hsiao-Hsieng’s films, Ken Loach’s Kes and Robert Benton’s Kramer vs. Kramer.

Q: Outside of cinema, where do you seek inspiration?

Non-fiction literature. Manga also inspire me. I like listening to conversations when I am on trains. It’s really kind of sneaky, but you learn a lot about people and how they talk. I also talk to taxi drivers and look at their names and imagine how they got to this point of being a taxi driver.

Q: You began your career making documentaries for television. How did this experience shape your film work?

In portraying characters, I always try to consider: “What would this person truthfully do in such a situation?” Without any experience in producing documentaries, my work would probably be much more fictional.

Q: What has been the best advice you have received in regards to filmmaking?

A TV producer once told me that you shouldn’t write a script with some vague audience in mind. You need to write it as if you are trying to speak to a specific person. I felt I was trying to communicate something to my mother when I wrote both After the Storm and Still Walking. But once I started filming, I saw something else happening. It was my mother on the surface, but on some other level I realised I had been trying to convey something to my father through these films.

'After the Storm' is released in UK cinemas from 2nd June. 

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