La Vérité (The Truth, 2019)

Although this isn’t strictly a Japanese film — in fact, as mentioned in the review below, it feels very much French — it’s from director Hirokazu Koreeda, who rarely seems to do the things people want him to. He’s made his name with gentle family dramas like I Wish and Our Little Sister, but as I’ve covered in a post earlier this week, he also has a tendency to do odd little films that don’t quite fit in. This one doesn’t feel entirely successful, but it’s certainly a family drama, with rather fewer cute kids than some of his previous ones.


There are a number of reviews out there expounding on how very ‘French’ this film is, despite being written and directed by a Japanese man, but I suppose I can’t deny it. It’s essentially a two-hander between Catherine Deneuve as the film star diva mother and Juliette Binoche as her daughter, and I can’t think of any more iconic French stars of modern cinema. Binoche plays Lumir, now based in the States and married to Ethan Hawke’s somewhat less successful actor Hank, while Deneuve is Fabienne (which is her real middle name, suggesting to me some level of meta-textual play going on). It’s about families and about the stories they tell about themselves, specifically the stories that Fabienne tells about herself and her family in an autobiography she’s just had published (called La Vérité, obviously). Still, it’s not one of those films where half-lies tear a family apart, and maybe that’s the bit which comes from writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda — indeed there’s a touching, almost sentimental, sense in which maybe things can be patched up and even an old diva can learn humility. I wouldn’t place this in the first rank of Koreeda’s work, but it’s a sweet and well-acted film all the same, and I can certainly identify with Hank, who, as family drama constantly swirls in French around him, is just stuck there going “uhhhh, vin rouge?” to an indifferent room.

The Truth film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Hirokazu Koreeda 是枝裕和; Cinematographer Éric Gautier; Starring Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke, Ludivine Sagnier; Length 106 minutes.
Seen at home (Curzon Home Cinema streaming), London, Saturday 28 March 2020.

Four Underappreciated Films by Hirokazu Koreeda: Distance (2001), Hana (2006), Air Doll (2009) and The Third Murder (2017)

The filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda has been turning out warmly-received films since his fiction feature debut Maborosi in 1995. Many of them — certainly, it seems, all of the most acclaimed — are warm-hearted family dramas, whether dealing with children directly as in I Wish (2011), with parents of kids in Like Father, Like Son (2013) or with young people in Our Little Sister (2015). However in many ways that’s only half his output, as he’s also made plenty of films that don’t fit quite so neatly into this framework. I was planning on writing a post about maybe one of these, but then I realised I had a vast cache of reviews of films that really aren’t very well known by this famous director, and I wonder how many great directors could have made great films if they’d been given as many chances. For one example not even covered here, there’s his latest English/French-language The Truth (to be reviewed here later this week), but there are also these four films reviewed below: a film about terrorists; a period drama; a sex drama; and a legal thriller.

Continue reading “Four Underappreciated Films by Hirokazu Koreeda: Distance (2001), Hana (2006), Air Doll (2009) and The Third Murder (2017)”

海街diary Umimachi Diary (Our Little Sister, 2015)

Hirokazu Koreeda makes delicate small-scale films, often about familial relationships, and that’s certainly the case here, which as the English title indicates is about a group of sisters. That’s not to say the film is devoid of men, just that it’s very much focused on the sisters and their relationships with one another, and very little with their relationships outside the family unit. Indeed, despite some discussions from the middle sister Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) about moving on, the three of them still live together in their childhood home in their small seaside home town. When they go to the funeral of their father (who left them when they were young), they meet his teenage daughter Suzu (Suzu Hirose), and she moves in to the sisters’ home for a bit. The film depicts quite a bit of fluidity to familial relationships beyond the stable nuclear family unit, without pushing it too strongly, and indeed most of the film’s revelations are very much underplayed. That said, it’s not without sentimentality (it has a tone not too far from the director’s 2011 film I Wish), but it doesn’t wallow egregiously in this. It’s a comedic film not in the sense of being filled with jokes (there is some gentle humour), but because you swiftly get a sense that nothing really bad is going to happen to the family as long as these sisters stick together. This does mean that the narrative has a meandering aspect that never quite resolves on any particular moment of drama or crisis, but then again it’s never exactly boring either. A quiet mood piece, then, and rather a delightful one.

Our Little Sister film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Hirokazu Koreeda 是枝裕和 (based on the graphic novel by Akimi Yoshida 吉田秋生); Cinematographer Mikiya Takimoto 瀧本幹也; Starring Suzu Hirose 広瀬すず, Haruka Ayase 綾瀬はるか, Masami Nagasawa 長澤まさみ, Kaho 夏帆; Length 126 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Soho, London, Tuesday 18 April 2016.

奇跡 Kiseki (I Wish, 2011)

This is a short review, as again I’ve let myself get behind in my write-ups at this busy time of year…


I think it’s clear at this point that Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda likes to make films about kids and their families, like a rather more sensitive rendering of the themes of earlier Steven Spielberg movies. His Like Father, Like Son was one of my favourite films at this year’s London Film Festival, and this previous film (only released in UK cinemas earlier this year) is also a delight. Both films feature families split apart — in this case by divorce — but I Wish takes the children as its protagonists, lending it also a sense of real child-like wonder.

It takes its time to get going though. The title, and the ostensible heart of the film, come with the idea — suggested off-handedly by a child at school early on — that if you witness the moment when two bullet trains pass one another, whatever you wish for will come true. As it happens, the older of the two children in the film longs most for their parents to get back together. However, the quest that this promise — and the news that the bullet train line is being extended to where he lives — suggests doesn’t really start until after a full half of the film’s two-hour running time has elapsed. Up until that point, what Koreeda is content to sketch out is a portrait of the lives of these two children, one living with their mother in a town in the shadow of an active volcano, the other with their father, whose dream of rock stardom ensures he lives a messy and indolent life (though in a rather larger city). The two communicate regularly by phone, but even here there’s the resigned hint that the younger child knows deep-down that the older sibling’s dream of the family getting back together is a foolish hope.

This isn’t then magical realism, and though there are playful hints towards this, the first half of the film ensures we know that this tale is very much grounded in something more akin to social realism. But even within these constraints, Koreeda has found something touching without being sentimental, and heart-warming without being cloying. I can’t imagine a better film founded on such a fragile premise. It’s a corrective to the kind of overblown sap you’d get in an equivalent Hollywood production, and for that I welcome it.

I Wish film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Hirokazu Koreeda 是枝裕和; Cinematographer Yutaka Yamazaki 山崎裕; Starring Koki Maeda 前田航基, Oshiro Maeda 前田旺志郎; Length 128 minutes.
Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Monday 16 December 2013.

そして父になる Soshite Chichi ni Naru (Like Father, Like Son, 2013)

I think this was my favourite film in the London Film Festival this year, but I’m finding it difficult to write much about it. In part, that’s because this delicate story of parents discovering that their six-year-old son was switched at birth is precisely that: delicate. It takes an inherently melodramatic conceit and really focuses in on the emotions of the father, Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama), as he tries to come to terms with the situation. He is a hard-working banker who loves his son but has not been greatly involved in his life; his family have prompted him to believe that bloodlines are very important, so when he discovers his ‘real’ son is being raised by a poorer couple with several other children, he feels he needs to ‘rescue’ him.

Around him, there are strong performances from Machiko Ono as his wife Midori, who appears unable to express her real feelings around her husband, and Yoko Maki and Lily Franky as Yukari and Yudai, the parents of the other child, who despite their poorer means seem to have a much happier life. The contrasts between the two family homes are well-captured by the cinematography — one being a colourful mess of a place attached to a convience store the couple run, the other all muted colours in a monochrome high-rise building (as Yudai wide-eyedly remarks, “the others were right, it looks like a hotel room”).

The director Hirokazu Koreeda succeeds in focusing the story on Ryota, even if it makes the film rather too much about his feelings to the exclusion of those around him. One is tempted at times to just want him to step aside and let the far more reasonable and sensible mothers sort things out (for the other father, Yudai, is a bit of an dolt, if a well-meaning one). However, it’s to the film’s credit that it keeps its focus on the central premise and the kinds of emotions that are unleashed, without falling into overblown melodrama.

I feel unequal to the task of reviewing this kind of film. It is a sensitively-made tearjerker which does what it sets out to do very effectively. It seems to avoid the pitfalls inherent in the premise, and is a fine addition to director Koreeda’s already strong film work.

Like Father, Like Son film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Hirokazu Koreeda 是枝裕和; Cinematographer Mikiya Takimoto 瀧本幹也; Starring Masaharu Fukuyama 福山雅治, Machiko Ono 尾野真千子, Yoko Maki 真木よう子, Riri Furanki リリー・フランキー [as “Lily Franky”]; Length 121 minutes.
Seen at Renoir, London, Tuesday 15 October 2013.