“I Like the Scar Better than the Wound”
Connor Jessup interviews Hirokazu Kore-eda
The first act of a Hirokazu Kore-eda movie invariably strolls along — pleasant enough, maybe a little slow, or slight? Then it starts to grow. Piece by little piece, detail is patiently built on top of detail. An offhand remark repeated with sudden significance, a character echoing another’s tics without knowing it, a flash of weakness or nastiness quickly concealed, an out-of-focus memorial photo lingering on the edge of frame. By the end of this process of almost invisible accumulation, you are left not only with a complete picture of a character, or a family, but with a total sense of time and space. You can feel life reaching out far beyond the film, collecting wisdom and significance almost by accident.
In Kore-eda's best films, like 2004’s Nobody Knows and 2008’s Still Walking, it doesn’t stop there. You leave the theatre, sit on the subway, and putter around your house as the movie continues to expand inside your head. Suddenly, something that at first felt so small and narrow seems to go on forever, containing pretty much everything. I don’t know exactly how he does that, but I know it involves empathy, humility, and overwhelming craft.
Kore-eda's newest film is After the Storm (currently playing at TIFF Bell Lightbox), and it’s a masterpiece. Following struggling novelist-turned-private-detective Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) and his clumsy efforts to repair his broken family, the film moves through themes of disappointment, lost time, and fatherhood with endless humour and affection. Shot in the housing complex where Kore-eda himself grew up, it features many familiar elements — home cooking, a radiant Kirin Kiki, immaculately simple compositions — but still manages to feel absolutely essential, and deeply moving. In advance of the film’s release, I had the chance to ask the filmmaker a few questions over email.
Connor Jessup is an actor and filmmaker whose short film Boy screened at TIFF 15. Read his curated edition of The Review, in which he riffs on a question taken from Kore-eda’s After Life: “If you could keep only one film frame with you for all eternity, which would you choose?"
Your films always make me hungry. Do you cook?
I like to eat, but actually I don’t cook at all.
The central theme of After the Storm seems to be learning how to face life, even while one is overcome by disappointment. How did you come to this idea?
A few years ago, I attended my 30-year high school reunion. It was when I was 48 years old, in the turning point of life, standing on the verge of 50. At the reunion I felt there were struggles in all of us giving up, and in achievement, and I came up with this motif.
In your film, the young son Shingo is told to hit home runs, to be the hero, but says he prefers drawing walks. That made me really happy; I wish there were more characters like that in movies.
When I was on the boy’s baseball team, I was a player who didn’t have a chance to get on base without getting walked, because I was small and not talented. I wanted to embrace my old inferiorities in the film.
Tragedy, loss, and confrontation are very present in your films, but usually by omission. We feel the reverberations of trauma, but we don’t witness it. This goes back to Maborosi, Distance, and even your documentary work. you seem more interested in scars than wounds — why is that?
Indeed, I like the scar better than the wound. I don’t know why. I think I feel there is a past and a future if we use our imagination.
In both After the Storm and Still Walking, the son caught up in the adult’s turmoil is portrayed as quiet, serious, and preternaturally sensitive to the struggles of grown-ups. Is that the kind of kid you were?
Yes, these characters reflect my character, deeply.
Many directors pursue aggressive authorship in their filmmaking. While your movies are very distinct, it’s hard to pin down where exactly you are in them. What’s your relationship to your own sense of authorship?
I think it is unfavourable when an author is obsessed with authorship. As for myself, I try to think humbly that the visual style will come out from a work, not from the author themselves. I prefer not to take control over my work as the author of the film.
For After the Storm, you reunited with your old cinematographer Yutaka Yamazaki after a few projects apart. You also returned to the more static and earthy visual style that defined some of your previous collaborations with him. Was this a natural result of working with Mr. Yamazaki again, or a deliberate shift for this particular film?
I think this film required his photography.
I’m a big fan of your work as an editor. You’re very good at finding small moments — sustained reactions, slight shifts in the rhythms of conversations, details in spaces — that infuse ordinary scenes with sadness and resonance. Do you visualize cutting patterns while you’re writing and shooting?
Yes, I do shooting and editing simultaneously. I edit the cut within the night of the shooting day and rewrite the script and storyboard for shooting the next day.
So much of the impact of your films depends on the accumulation of details — for example, in After the Storm, how Shingo calls the stop on the bus instead of his dad, or Ryota’s verbal tics, or Yoshiko’s sketches of flowers. How do you work with details?
Details show the colour of a character, as well as their relationships with others. It will be a relationship from a child to a parent, from a wife to a husband; the result of sharing time, beyond the blood relationship. The details are made from my memory. Sometimes, I find them through the process of observing actors.
You’re working on a new project now, The Third Murder. What can you say about it?
I’m still in the process of editing, but the story is about an attorney, a murderer, and the family of the victim.
Movies are very difficult. Why do you continue to make them?
I think it is because movies are difficult. I have made films for 20 years, but it becomes difficult for me more and more. There is no goal.