Distance ディスタンス Dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda (2001)

Distance    Distance Film Poster

ディスタンス Disutansu

Release Date: May 26th, 2001

Duration: 132 mins.

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda (Script) 

Starring: Yui Natsukawa, Yusuke Iseya, Arata, Susumu Terajima, Tadanobu Asano, Ryo, Kenichi Endo, Kanji Tsuda,

IMDB

Hirokazu Kore-eda made Distance after he became interested in the disciples of Aum Shinrikyo, the group which committed the Tokyo subway sarin attack¹. He wanted to comment on how everyone in society could be responsible for it in some way. In so doing, he strikes at a universal fear surely felt by everyone which is that perhaps those who should be the closest to us are sometimes the ones furthest away.

This idea of distance is given to us through the story of a group of people who are ostensibly disconnected from each other but each has a deep personal connection to a terrorist incident described at the start of the film by a radio announcer.

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Shoplifters 万引き家族 Dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda (2018)

Shoplifters   Shoplifters Film Poster

万引き家族 Manbiki Kazoku

Release Date: June 08th, 2018

Duration: 121 mins.

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda (Screenplay),

Starring: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Kirin Kiki, Miyu Sasaki, Mayu Matsuoka, Kairi Jyo, Yoko Moriguchi, Yuki Yamada, Moemi Katayama, Akira Emoto, Kengo Kora, Chizuru Ikewaki, Sosuke Ikematsu,

Website IMDB

Hirokazu Kore-eda is often compared to Yasujiro Ozu due to his depictions of families in Japan but he is quite political. Through various detailed tapestries of the rich and poor, nuclear and unconventional family units and different individuals, he has charted a myriad of lives all over the archipelago of his home nation and captured the changing dynamics of a country where tradition, social mores and people’s bonds are seemingly degrading as society adapts to new ways of thinking about work and family and people live atomised lives. Shoplifters tells the story of a most unconventional family by normal Japanese standards and, in so doing, it offers some quite stringent critiques of the exploitation of labour, the indifference of authorities and the resulting breakdown of relationships. It is a refreshingly open politicisation of content for a Japanese mainstream film and it feels akin to the social realist films of Ken Loach. This political bite could partly be the reason why the film went on to wow critics and net the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival but, as in all Kore-eda films, it is the performances that sway hearts and make audiences cry.

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The Third Murder 三度目の殺人 Dir: Hirokazu Koreeda (2017)

The Third Murder    The Third Murder Film Poster

三度目の殺人Sandome no Satsujin

Release Date: September 09th, 2017

Duration: 124 mins.

Director:  Hirokazu Koreeda

Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda (Screenplay),

Starring: Masaharu Fukuyama, Koji Yakusho, Suzu Hirose, Yuki Saito, Kotaro Yoshida, Mikako Ichikawa, Izumi Matsuoka,

Website IMDB

This film from Hirokazu Kore-eda feels like a departure from his usual interests of family dynamics because it is an exploration of the Japanese justice system but it still features his familiar interest in the atomisation of Japanese society.

Set in the snowy northern island of Hokkaido, this is an almost coldly analytical tale of a public defender taking on what should be an open and shut case and discovering that the truth is hard to pin down and that those who mete out justice sometimes aren’t interested in truth at all.

Shigemori (Fukuyama) is an elite lawyer who has been given the task of defending a man named Misumi Mikuma (Yakusho), an ex-con only just released from prison after serving a term for a murder he committed in 1986. Misumi has been arrested and charged with murdering the manager of the canning factory he works at. Misumi seems guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt because he was caught with the victim’s wallet and has confessed to the murder. A violent background, circumstantial evidence and confession. That is enough to warrant the death penalty. Shigemori has been drafted in to save Misumi.

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After the Storm 海よりもまだ深く Dir: Hirokazu Koreeda (2016)

After the Storm   

After the Storm Film Poster
After the Storm Film Poster

海よりもまだ深く 「Umi yori mo mada fukaku」

Release Date: May 21st, 2016

Running Time: 117 mins.

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda (Original Story, Screenplay)

Starring: Hiroshi Abe, Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Sosuke Ikematsu, Yoko Maki, Satomi Kobayashi, Isao Hashizume, Taiyo Yoshizawa

IMDB   Website

After the Storm is a story of everyday human failings and the constant hope for a better tomorrow that motivates us. Kore-eda cast a cadre of familiar actors who he had worked with in previous films including Kirin Kiki and Hiroshi Abe, both of whom were in Still Walking (2008) as mother and son Toshiko and Ryota. This family drama could be a sort of sequel to Still Walking due to similarities – Kiki’s character Toshiko (とし子) turns into Yoshiko (淑子) here while Abe’s character is named Ryota (良多) in both films – and callbacks likethe butterfly motif and it features a deceptive simpleness in its approach, a story of a family gathering made complex by tangled emotions tinged with bitter history.

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Still Walking 歩いても 歩いても Dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda (2008)

Still Walking   Still Walking Film Poster

歩いても 歩いても Aruitemo Aruitemo

Running Time: 114 mins.

Release Date: June 28th, 2008

Director:  Hirokazu Koreeda

Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda (Screenplay/Original Story),

Starring: Kiki Kirin, Hiroshi Abe, You, Yui Natsukawa, Kazuya Takahashi, Yoshio Harada, Shohei Tanaka, Haruko Kato, Susumu Terajima,

IMDB

Quite possibly Kore-eda’s best film this is a snapshot of a family over 24 hours that, through deft storytelling reveals richly complicated and interwoven lives from different generations.

The seasons are about to change from summer to autumn and preparations are underway at the Yokoyama household for the annual commemoration of the eldest son Junpei who drowned in an accident 15 years ago. The spacious, comfortable and old-fashioned house run by Toshiko (Kirin Kiki) will welcome her middle-aged children and their young families who will be arriving soon. Meanwhile, curmudgeon father Kyohei (Yoshio Harada), a former physician, walks around their quiet neighbourhood to the beach where the tragic accident happened when not hiding in the clinic attached to their home. The daughter, Chinami (YOU), will bring her good-natured husband Nobuo (Kazuya Takahashi) and their cheerful kids Satsuki (Hotaru Nomoto) and Mutsu (Ryoga Hayashi) who will invade the house and fill it with laughter and tales from school but there is an edge to the atmosphere as they await second son Ryota (Hiroshi Abe).

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Kirin Kiki (January 15, 1943 – September 15, 2018)

It has been over a month since veteran actor Kirin Kiki passed away. Fans of Asian cinema are still mourning her passing and I’d just like to add a couple of thoughts.

Kirin Kiki 1960s

Kirin Kiki was born in Tokyo in 1943 and started her acting career fresh from graduating from high school in the early 1960s. Her first steps were to become a member of the Bungakuza theatre troupe using the stage name Chiho Yuki and taking on two early screen roles, the first being a TBS drama Seven Grandchildren (Shichinin no mago 七人の孫) in 1964 and then two film roles, the drama Gentlemen Beware (Tonogata Goyoujin 殿方御用心), released in June 1966 and the comedy Drunken Doctor Continues (Zoku Yoidore hakase 続・酔いどれ博士), written by Kaneto Shindo and released in September of the same year. She continued working throughout the years and showed her versatility when she collaborated with the likes of Seijun Suzuki on Zigeunerweisen (1980) and Pistol Opera (2001) and Nobuhiko Obayashi on Sabishinbo (1985), continuing on to titles like Villain and Arrietty (both from 2010) where she played grandmother types. She had a diverse range but I, and many Japanese film fans, would come into contact with her due to her work with Hirokazu Kore’eda.

Koreeda and Kirin Together

An interesting life and deep experience in the world of acting gave her a quality of wisdom and endurance and also brusqueness, something she called upon when working with Kore-eda. Usually playing a grandmother or an old friend of a family with a flinty personality, she became a reassuring and welcome presence who was like a steady hand at the tiller when all around her were adrift *even if you disagreed with her) whenever she was on the screen in titles such as Kiseki (2011), Like Father, Like Son (2013), and Our Little Sister (2015), and After the Storm (2016) but her most iconic role will be Still Walking (2008).

In it, lead actor Hiroshi Abe plays Ryota Yokoyama, the unpopular second son and an art restorer who returns to his parent’s home to commemorate the death of the beloved eldest son. Everyone is struggling with barely suppressed emotions as we find that the Yokoyama family are riven by the death and the healing process is glacial. Audiences will wonder if it will ever occur as comments and actions are full of personal slights and resentment that show a lifetime of hurt. Kirin’s character probably has the sharpest moments where her harshness is well-hidden by the jollity she brings to her performance. 

That mother and son double-act she formed with Abe was brought back with After the Storm as the two worked together perfectly to showcase another quietly dysfunctional family but with less of a sharper and darker edge as Abe’s character tries to deal with his separation from his wife. Hope springs eternal for these characters but they eventually have to let go of the past. Kirin steals the show in a tear-inducing scene where she tries to revive her son’s happy family. A nice thematic link between the two is the butterfly...

After the Storm Koreeda Kirin Abe

Perhaps her best performance in recent years is to be found in the Naomi Kawase film Sweet Bean (2015) where she starred alongside granddaughter Kyara Uchida and she finds another perfect acting partner in the superb Masatoshi Nagase. While he is all stoicism and bitterness, she is the hopeful and delightful ray of light that balances him and helps the film make a point about people needing to understand the world around us. 

Kirin’s death was not unexpected. She had been diagnosed with cancer back in 2004 and had undergone operations for it. In an interview with reporter Mai Yoshikawa for The Japan Times earlier this year she commented,

My cancer has spread throughout my entire body and there’s nothing the doctors can do,” Kiki added. “There’s no point in comparing myself now to my old healthy self and feeling miserable. . . . Rather than fighting reality, I choose to accept what’s in front of me and go with the flow.”

To think that she went through cancer treatment and still put in these great performances! 2018 was the year of Kirin as she starred in Kore-eda’s latest film, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and she was feted at his year’s Japan Cuts where she won the CUT ABOVE award for her services to the Japanese film industry.

This isn’t the last we have heard of her as audiences in Japan can see her in a Tatushi Omori film in October called Nichinichi Kore Kojitsu (2018).

Every Day A Good Day   Every Day A Good Day Film Poster

日日是好日 Nichinichi Kore Kojitsu

Running Time: 100 mins.

Release Date: October 13th, 2018

Director: Tatsushi Ohmori

Writer: Tatsushi Ohmori (Screenplay), Noriko Morishita (essay)

Starring: Haru Kruoki, Mikako Tabe, Kirin Kiki, Shingo Tsurumi, Mayu Tsuruta, Mayu Harada, Saya Kawamura, Chihiro Okamoto,

Website IMDB

Synopsis: Noriko (Haru Kuroki) is a 20-year-old university student who has lost her way in life. Noriko’s mother suggests that she attends a Japanese tea ceremony near her house with her cousin Michiko (Mikako Tabe). Michiko is enthusiastic about it but Noriko doesn’t seem so certain. However, once there, Noriko learns from the teacher, Takeda (Kirin Kiki) and experiences a whole new world. It stays with Noriko throughout her life, during frustrations while job hunting, moments when she suffers a broken heart, and during the death of someone important. The tea ceremony always offers her something to return to…

Kiki Kirin’s final screen appearance in a drama. Here is a clip from her performance, Erika 38, which is released next year:

My words don’t really do her justice but through her films, family, friends, and fans, she will live on.

Kirin Kiki, Rest in Peace.

Hirokazu Kore-eda wins the Palme d’Or for “Shoplifters” at Cannes 2018

Hirokazu Kore-eda won the Palme d’Or at the 71st Cannes Film Festival for his latest film, Shoplifters.

Hirokazu Koreeda Cannes 2018 Shoplifters Palme d'or
(Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

Congratulations, Hirokazu Kore-eda!

This was his fifth time in the competition section and his win marks, to quote the critic Peter Debruge over at Variety,

“just the second time this century that an Asian film has claimed the festival’s top prize (the other being Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” in 2010).”

This latest drama features an unconventional family living happily together on the margins of Japanese society through a mixture of grit and graft. Initially a gentle and heartwarming film, the tone changes as it shines a light on the failings of society and individuals. It marks yet another film where Kore-eda has worked with child actors and got amazing results as the different reviews have pointed out (round-up of reviews post).

Cate Blanchett, the Cannes Jury president said, “We were completely bowled over by ‘Shoplifters.’ How inter-meshed the performances were with the directorial vision”.

The film has already been picked up for US distribution thanks to Magnolia Films. The company’s president, Eamon Bowles said,

“In a long career of incredible peaks, Hirokazu Kore-eda has delivered one of his best works. ‘Shoplifters’ is an incredible story that deals with familial bonds in a way I’ve never seen before”. SOURCE

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Japanese Films at the Cannes Film Festival Review Round-Up: Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters”

There is a small selection of Japanese films at the Cannes Film Festival 2018 with two in the Competition section. The biggest name is Hirokazu Kore-eda who has appeared at Cannes six times in the Competition and Un Certain Regard sections, picking up the Jury Prize for Like Father, Like Son (2013). Due to his focus on families in films like I Wish (2011) and Our Little Sister (2015), he is often called the Ozu of modern Japanese cinema by critics and this one features an unconventional family by normal Japanese standards since it features a group of people living happily together on the margins through a mixture of grit and graft. Initially a gentle and heartwarming film, the tone changes as it shines a light on the failings of society and individuals. So, what are the highlights of the reviews?

SHOPLIFTERS

Shoplifters Film Image 2

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Japanese Films at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival

Cannes FIlm Festival 2016 Poster
Cannes FIlm Festival 2016 Poster

This year’s edition of the Cannes Film Festival takes place from May 11th to the 22nd and it’s the 69th edition of the event. The festival’s main programme (every title in competition and Un Certain Regard) has been announced. This year’s line-up looks like its lumbering under the weight of major American films like Steven Spielberg’s The BFG and two Jim Jarmusch films. There are films from European stalwarts such as the Dardenne brothers, Andrea Arnold and Nicolas Winding Refn and there are two familiar Japanese names in the mix but both are in Un Certain Regard… Plus there are two Japanese films in Cannes Classics. It’s a good line-up and continues an upward trend following on from a similarly packed 2015. The only person missing from the party is Takashi Miike!

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