With Kore-eda Hirokazu’s recently released I Wish (Kiseki, 2011) garnering glowing critical acclaim on these shores, the four films featured in Matchbox Films’ Kore-eda Hirokazu Collection represent the entry point into this masterful Japanese directors unique and distinct approach to cinema. Over the years, Kore-eda has established himself as one of Japan’s most distinct and unique auteurs, with his seamless blend of nuanced, naturalistic performances with high concept fictional narratives. The earliest film in this collection, After Life (1998), is arguably the most representative of Kore-eda’s style and thematic concerns.
Set in a half-way station between the mortal world and afterlife, the recently deceased are offered guides to help them to appraise the merits of their lives, and are asked to focus on one specific and defining memory. This one moment of pure joy is to be recreated and remade as a short film to be replayed for eternity. Kore-eda is less concerned here with this fantastical and ethereal element of this premise, and instead keeps the film focused firmly on the ground. More importantly still, After Life represents Kore-eda’s personal take on the very nature and purpose of cinema itself, the premise is a merely a prelude for a masterful engagement with the ‘myth of total cinema’.
The characters in After Life can come to terms with the end of their respective physical existence, but it is the fear of what André Bazin called the “second spiritual death” that requires careful negotiation and guidance. It is through the short filmed vignettes of existence that life is affirmed and captured, be it a leisurely summer afternoon on a tram or the exhilaration of a rollercoaster ride. It is through the language of film that the nature of humanity can be rendered and recorded, and more significantly it will then be remembered, they will not be forgotten. Kore-eda offers a profound, thoughtful and highbrow concept and effortlessly presents this as a humorous, touching and engaging character study.
Nobody Knows (2004) and Still Walking (2008) follow closely in both the visual style and thematic preoccupations established in After Life, affirming the auteur credentials of Kore-eda. Both films retain a focus on the intimate study of characters in carefully constructed contexts. The award-winning Nobody Knows features remarkable performances from the non-professional child actors, and represents the clearest indication of the influence on Kore-eda of Italian neo-realism. Still Walking, meanwhile, foregrounds the director’s thematic interest in mortality and memory, centring on a families anniversary meeting to commemorate the death of much loved family member.
The final film in this box set, Air Doll (2009), is a slight disappointment given the quality and consistency of Kore-eda’s output. The fantastical premise is once again front and centre, as a life size air doll, the companion of a lonely detached man, quite literally comes to life. Her innocent and naive world view recalls the child centred perspective in Nobody Knows, whilst the highly artificial concept brings to mind After Life. Whilst touching, and at times thought-provoking, the emotional resonance is somewhat lacking. Yet, to suggest that Air Doll fails to reach the lofty heights of the previous films seems somewhat disingenuous, an uncharitable criticism given the remarkable momentum and consistency of the films presented in this outstanding collection.
To order your copy of the Kore-eda Hirokazu Collection, simply follow this link.