When you have good actors, they know what I want.

Hirokazu Kore-eda

By Ali Moosavi.

Japan has had a fine tradition of presenting world-class filmmakers to the world of cinema. These have included Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Akira Kurosawa, Kon Ichikawa, Masaki Kobayashi, Shohei Imamura, Nagisa Oshima and Hayao Miyazaki among others. The latest Japanese director to take his place among these greats is Hirokazu Kore-eda. To cinephiles, Kore-eda was well known because of films such as Maborosi (1995), After Life (1998), Nobody Knows (2004), I Wish (2011), Like Father, Like Son (2013) and After the Storm (2016). Kore-eda finally received worldwide recognition when Shoplifters won the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018. Kore-eda has followed that with his first film in a foreign language, The Truth (La vérité ) starring Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche and Ethan Hawke, which premiered at the 2019 Venice Film Festival.

Kore-eda also presented the film at the 2019 San Sebastian International Film Festival, where Film International caught up with him. For this interview, Kore-eda was accompanied by an interpreter. After hearing each question from the interpreter, Kore-eda would lean his head back, close his eyes, think for a few seconds, before giving his answer in Japanese.

When Abbas Kiarostami made his first non-Persian language film, Certified Copy (2010), he wrote the screenplay in Farsi and had it translated into French and English. What process did you adopt?

“From the first moment I decided that I would take a different, lighter approach”

In my case, it was the same process. I wrote the script in Japanese and then had it translated into French. We had an interpreter who was simultaneously translating while we were shooting. It was a very difficult process because in Japanese language you have some ambiguities; some things are not clear intentionally. But for the French translation, we had to be very clear, so it’s a complicated process to obtain a good translation.

How was the casting done for the film?

In 2007 I had lunch with Juliette Binoche in a Japanese restaurant in Paris. Then in 2010 we were both in an official event in Japan where I was given the task of conducting a three-hour Q&A with her. We met again in an event in Kyoto, and she asked me why we don’t make a film together.

Was there any noticeable difference between directing Japanese actors and French and American actors?

I think when you have very good actors, there is no big difference in directing Japanese or foreign actors. I rehearsed with them, discussing my general approach to the characters. Then I spoke to them more delicately with my measured way of speaking to discuss individual characters. When you have good actors, they know what I want.

It seems to me there are some Chekhovian elements in The Truth.

Someone told me this once before, and for me it’s a big compliment. But actually I did not have in mind to put something of Chekhov in this film. When someone wants to give me a compliment, they talk about Chekhov and Ozu!

I think one of the reasons that your films are compared to Ozu’s is that, like him, your films are about families. In The Truth again you focus on different members of a family.

It’s not only about the family, but it’s true that the structure of a family allows me to make a very particular movie. In this film it is the relation of a mother and daughter and also a niece and a grandfather. So, you have different points of view. The daughter is also going to be a mother so you have continuous interactions on different levels inside the family, which was a very interesting thing for me.

There are a lot of close ups of women and of two women together in The Truth, which reminded me of Ingmar Bergman. I wondered if he is an influence.

Maybe you are talking about Autumn Sonata (1978). Actually, I watched that film again before starting mine. But I don’t think there is that much similarity between them. Maybe some of the other Bergman films had some influence over The Truth.

Was Catherine Deneuve OK with mentioning Brigitte Bardot? People laughed a lot and will no doubt it will be a talking point.

She never said to me that I don’t want to do this scene. It was in the script and was not changed. She was laughing though and said maybe Brigitte will hate her, but she didn’t ask to change it.

Has winning the Palm d’Or changed your film making plans, and do you plan to make more international films?

This project (The Truth) began before we won the Palm d’Or, so that did not influence this film. Maybe from now on it will be easier for me to get financing. The shooting of this film was very smooth and without any problems. We spent a great deal of time on preparation and rehearsal before shooting. So, if I’m given this much preparation time to make a film abroad, I will do it.

It’s the first time you’ve worked with the Russian composer, Alexei Aigui.

The film’s producer gave me samples of works of three or four composers, and I decided on him because I was looking for a light atmosphere; something that was not dark, and I felt he was the right composer for this film.

It seems to me that this film has more humour than your previous films. Was this partly a result of French setting and the actors or it was intentional?

Well, from the first moment I decided that I would take a different, lighter approach compared to my previous films and introduce some humour. Of course, the personality of Catherine Deneuve, which is very sympathetic, played an important role.

After you finish a film and have completed the promotion in film festivals, do you disconnect from cinema or are you always thinking about making the next film?

To tell you the truth, in the last 4 or 5 years, I was continually shooting and at the same time, preparing the next one. So, for 365 days a year I could not disconnect. After this movie, I’m going to take a short vacation and try not to think about films for a while. But it’s very difficult for me not to think about movies! I am trying hard to disconnect!

For the first time in my life. I have been out of Japan and away from my family for six months, and it has been stressful for me. On the other hand, now I am in a hotel, all I have to think about is the film that I have just done. So, I try to have a balance.

Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine (Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of the The Directory of World Cinema: Iran (Intellect, 2015).

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