Hirokazu Kore-eda is an established Japanese director. I first saw Nobody Knows on recommendation from a professor in college who said, “You haven’t seen Nobody Knows?!?” and then put her hand over her heart, leaned back in her chair, and looked at the ceiling. It’s one of the saddest movies I’ve ever seen, so I had to bring it up a couple times when I sat down with Kore-eda in The Fairmont hotel to talk about his new movie, Still Walking, which I reviewed here.
Me: In another interview I heard you talk about Nobody Knows as being an extremely realistic movie and with Hana you wanted to make something more fictional. Is Still Walking a return to that realism?
Kore-eda: I might use slightly different words. With Nobody Knows, in a very real environment I was trying to write a poem. And for Hana I was trying to tell a story. This time I’m writing prose, maybe fiction, but I really wanted to have a sense of reality. Make it more real, without having metaphors or symbols. For example, the pajamas and the toothbrush and the piles in the back room and the handle, I really wanted to not make any distance away from that, but to stay close to the real images and the real facts.
Me: I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about the shooting process and working with the actors. Not to bring up Nobody Knows too much, but that movie took place over a full year and you spread shooting out over a full year as well. Still Walking takes place in one day…
Kore-eda: For Nobody Knows, yes, it was shot over an entire year. It starts in autumn, then winter, spring, summer. And we shot maybe 2 weeks each of the seasons so a total of 8 weeks of shooting, but even when we were not shooting, we were gathered at the apartment or in the park. We kept a close relationship.
This time it was a six-week schedule. We had a set that was built in the studio with the kitchen, the living room and the garden. I don’t recall doing anything particularly special for the actors, but the process was that I wrote the script, everybody read the script, and then revised the script, and then also we gathered together on set to see if the actors could actually be moving in certain ways and saying those things – blocking it out that way. I was careful to confirm over and over again that it didn’t look false – the movements and the speech – that it looked natural. So it was a constant awareness of the space that they were in and the movement in the space.
But the children were not involved in all that. I had adults standing in for the children while we were doing that whole process. And once shooting began, then we kept the children in. And we told them they were just going to their grandmother’s house to play in the summer. So as we were shooting, I would suggest, okay let’s maybe open the refrigerator, get some of the iced tea out, that sort of thing. They didn’t have a set dialogue or script to follow.
Me: The main character, the Hiroshi Abe character. He seems to identify much better with the young boy that visits the family than with anyone else. How much of the movie is about a transition from traditional values to modern values?
Kore-eda: The fact that the Hiroshi Abe character is sympathetic to the young man, I don’t think is generational. It’s because of complex emotions. That young man is not fully employed, he’s just doing a part time job, and as they say in the film, his body has gotten sort of uselessly large. That is what he relates to because that’s the way he’s seen in his family too. He doesn’t have a decent job. So it’s a sympathy that he feels for him because if he negates the young man, then he himself is negated as well. There’s a sense that if somebody had to die in this family, it should have been him, the second son who’s a no-good son rather than his quite brilliant brother. So he has to protect him because of his own ego.
Me: I’m always impressed with how genuine your movies feel. Too often everything feels staged in movies. How do you do this? And how important is it?
Kore-eda: I got a letter from a person who had seen Nobody Knows saying that after, on the way home, there was a park. And they started searching for the children, thinking that they might be playing in the park. I was very happy to get that because I think it’s good when a film doesn’t end in a theater ,when they feel that the story, those people, are still somehow around in daily life. So to get that effect I do a lot of different things, depending on the story or the actor or the scene. Working with children, I try to bring out their unique characteristics, their personality. With professional actors I make it so that you don’t see their technique. Maybe by having them interact with a child, or whatever the scene calls for. If, as a result, I can get people to have the illusion that those people might exist in their everyday lives. Then it’s a success.
Still Walking plays for one week only at The Lumiere Theater. Starts Friday, September 4. Info.