Japanese Films at the Cannes Film Festival 2017 Review Round-Up: Naomi Kawase’s “Radiance”

It has been a while since I last did a review round-up of any festival but fellow cinephile and Twitter-user FelixAguirre regularly collects links to reviews and alerts them to me and with such a treasure-trove of opinions from the most recent Cannes Film Festival on offer, I’d be mad to turn them down. Following on from Blade of the Immortal and Before We Vanish is…


Radiance Film Image 2

People have criticised the Cannes film festival in the past for not showcasing more female directors and in 2017 they increased the amount of women on the croisette and the amount of female-driven stories on the big screen. Let’s hope that trend continues and that they tap into the pool of female talent that Asia has produced. However, the Cannes film festival has supported one female filmmaker in particular and her name is Naomi Kawase.

I’ll be honest and say that, despite spending years (YEARS!) writing about festivals where Naomi Kawase shows up, and despite vowing to watch her films, I still haven’t watched any. I worked with people who have worked with Naomi Kawase and I admitted (mumbling in shame at the time) that I was still ignorant about her work… She was at this year’s Cannes film festival with her latest film…

RadianceHikari Film Poster


Running Time: 129 mins.

Release Date: May 27th , 2017

Director: Naomi Kawase

Writer: Naomi Kawase (Screenplay),

Starring: Masatoshi Nagase, Ayame Misaki, Tatsuya Fuji, Chihiro Ohtsuka, Kazuko Shirakawa, Saori Koide, Nobumitsu Onishi, Mantaro Koichi,

Website IMDB

Naomi Kawase is a native of the city of Nara and shot her latest film there in October and November. It seems she is also a native of Cannes since she is constantly either having a film screened or she is one of the judges. She reunites with the actor Masatoshi Nagase who worked with her on An (2015), a film that appeared at Cannes 2015 and a whole host of other festivals before getting released in the UK and US amongst other foreign territories. I have been told that her films are good and I have met people who have worked with her and so I really need to check out her work.

Synopsis: Masaya Nakamori (Masatoshi Nagase) is a genius photographer. He meets Misako Ozaki (Ayame Misaki), a woman who is involved in a voice acting project for the visually impairedThe two initially don’t get on because Masaya has a cold attitude but when Misako sees a photograph of a sunset shot by him, she is inspired to look into Masaya’s life and discovers that he is losing his sight and their relationship changes.

Many critics like to talk about her background with the festival to give context:

In 1997, Naomi Kawase became the youngest winner of the Camera d’Or for her first feature Suzaku. She has returned seven times in total and this year enters the main competition for the fifth time with Radiance, a thoughtful meditation on seeing and cinema.John Bleasdale – Cinevue

This background serves as a way to contrast her old and new work and exploring her place as a star in cinema’s art house firmament and how they feel her current work doesn’t quite measure up to her opening salvo of films:

Making her fifth appearance in competition (and seventh overall) at Cannes, Kawase shows she’s sadly still nowhere near recovering that stylistic balance that propelled her to greatness in the first decade of her career: Suzaku (1997) and The Mourning Forest (2007), both prize-winners on the Croisette, remain two of the most artistically audacious and emotionally engaging films to have emerged out of contemporary Japanese cinema.

Radiance is as luminous a piece of filmmaking as Kawase’s previous work, but it also contains much less substance than its gleaming sheen suggests. Riding on the mainstream breakthrough success of An, the film is counting on the presence of Paterson’s Masatoshi Nagase and the story’s unfettered celebration of cinema as both art and salvation to garner prominent exposure on the festival circuit and, perhaps, niche releases in Asian and European markets. (Except in France, of course: Kawase is an art house icon backed by MK2, who are repping the film at Cannes.)” Clarence Tsui – The Hollywood Reporter

Naomi Kawase Photocall

In terms of the actual content of the film itself, the critics were split as to whether it is profound or slight, the story powerful or hollow but all are agreed that it is beautiful and the script’s use of a character who performs audio-descriptions for films is a great way to explore Kawase’s interest in beauty and the ephemeral nature of life even if the impact of the story might lessen for those on the outer fringes of Kawase fandom.

In using a quite ingenious concept – the process of creating film audio descriptions for the blind and partially sighted – Kawase shows us the intellectual and emotional sophistication involved in the usage of language, while emphasising the difficulty of deciding which words to leave in and which to leave out. Joseph Owen – The Upcoming


the film’s thematic preoccupation with the power of images — as perceived through any of the senses — is a worthy and thoughtful one. Yet the execution lacks the visual and emotional rigor of Kawase’s most imposing films, instead swaddling viewers in buttery lighting and blunt, earnest platitudes. Some will respond to such comforts, though “Radiance” is unlikely to significantly expand the international profile of a filmmaker still best loved on the Croisette.Guy Lodge – Variety

Radiance FIlm Image

Typically delicate and as gentle as a balm, the film’s well-intentioned earnestness will not endear it to the more cynical end of the audience spectrum. But fans of Kawase’s small scale personal dramas will respond to the film’s wistful tone, as well as the plaintive prettiness of the photography.Wendy Ide – Screen International

What makes “Radiance” so intriguing for anyone working in the HI/VI space is that Kawase depicts not the nitty gritty technical details of how deaf and blind moviegoers get to enjoy films in cinemas, but rather their feelings, reasonings and ultimate reward for wanting to do so in the first place.J. Sperling Reich – Celluloid Junkie

Hikari Cannes

Some critics who were agnostic about her talents like Peter Bradshaw are slowly coming under her sway.

But the seriousness of the ideas at stake and novelty of the story command interest and, for me, this film represents an advance on Kawase’s previous film at Cannes – An, or Sweet Bean – which was too sucrose. Peter Bradshaw – The Guardian

Radiance Photocall Cannes 2017

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