Japanese film director Hirokazu Kore-eda took home the Golden Palm Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018 for his film Shoplifters. Interested in his personal story, Campus Now (a Japanese public relations magazine of Waseda University) had the pleasure to conduct a special interview with the former Waseda student.
“I’d always wanted to be a writer and that was why I decided to enroll myself in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Waseda University. But when I started college as an undergraduate, I soon realized that that getting a degree in the arts alone would not bring be there,” said Kore-eda.
The alumnus was probably not someone that people in general would consider him as a “good student.” Partly because of the long commute, Kore-eda often skipped classes during his undergraduate years.
“There were many cinemas, such as the ACT Mini Theater, at Takadanobaba in the past. When I know I could not make it to the morning classes in the first period, I’d end up watching movies the whole day in one of the movie theaters. Then one day, it just occurred to me that maybe what I really wanted to do in the future was to make films. Among the movies that I’ve watched, I really like those directed by Federico Fellini. After doing a lot of research on him, I later found out that Professor Kenji Iwamoto who taught film studies at Waseda translated his autobiography and so I decided to sign up for Professor Iwamoto’s classes,” said Kore-eda as he recalled how he found his real passion.
In pursuit of his dream, Kore-eda first directed documentary TV programs after graduation before becoming a film director. Following his debut film Maborosi, Kore-eda directed a handful number of films that examines the Japanese society through the lens of a single family. Even though his works primarily focus on the local Japanese community and that he never really had international audience in mind when making them, they were well liked by viewers overseas.
“If you ask me, I don’t think works that explore global issues or themes that concerns people around the world would necessarily appeal to the international audience. At the same time, works that focus on a local community of a particular culture would not necessarily be considered insular too. Take the film Still Walking, for example. The film depicts a one-day family gathering for a commemorative ritual. Despite its simplicity and focus on a family event of a typical Japanese family, the film was very well received by people around world with many saying that they could relate to it. When making a film, I think it’s important to ask the question whether you can empathize or establish a connection with the plot and people in it. If you can’t, it is very unlikely that the viewers would be able to. It’s not about how local or global the theme is, it’s about the depth of the film.”
Besides making films, director Kore-eda is also currently teaching film classes at his alma mater.
“When I look at the works produced by students, there were times when I could feel the strong passions put into making them. They may be unpolished, but they have great potential. As long as students continue to make them, they’ll be able to learn and refine their works, creating their own unique style in the process. By working with students, I’ve come to realize that unrefined works can be intriguing and appealing too.”