Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda got his break on Japanese TV before going on to direct a number of films defined by an ethereal atmosphere and preoccupation with death, loss and memory. His latest, Still Walking is released in cinemas on January 15.
LWLies: Most of your films touch on the themes of memory, death and loss, but you made Still Walking shortly after the death of your own parents. Is it your most personal film? And how autobiographical are the family details in it?
Koreeda: It is my most personal. Fantasy films like After Life and Air Doll do have autobiographical aspects in no small part however, so Still Walking isn’t the only film with a personal side to it. About half the mother character’s lines were actually said by my own mother.
Still Walking seems to be haunted not just by the ghosts of Ryota's long-dead older brother Junpei, and Yukari's recently deceased first husband, but also by the spirit of Yasujiro Ozu. How directly were you influenced in your filmmaking decisions by both the themes and the mise-en-scène of his Tokyo Story?
Although I dealt with a similar theme and motifs as in Ozu’s films, I didn’t think about him while making this. Actually, I was thinking more of Mikio Naruse in terms of the theme and the formal techniques, and also the works of Ken Loach. Most of them were written in the script, but the crepe myrtles in bloom at the patio were found while we were location scouting, and the ship run aground we discovered on a day when there just happened to very high seas. I decided to film them because they were intriguing.
Given your film's concern with often painful domestic tensions, it is remarkably free of melodrama. How did you elicit such restrained performances from your cast?
We addressed several aspects in order not to make the film a sentimental melodrama. One was to add humorous elements, another was to portray psychology in relation to concrete objects like pyjamas and toothbrushes, while we also had this premise that the words weren’t to be immediately apprehended, that their meaning would only be grasped after the passage of time.
Your next film, which screened here recently as part of the London Film Festival, seems a departure from Still Walking. Can you tell us something about what you intended with Air Doll?
I was fascinated by the motif of a plastic doll which is preformed without life nor memory – it’s missing any content – but then has life breathed into it by someone else.
With thanks to Trevor Johnston for the translation.