Thursday, November 15, 2012

Respectful Distance: Kore-eda Hirokazu (2/2)

And here is the rest of my Kore-eda Analysis:

Avoiding Eye Contact
More often than not, the camera waits respectfully at a distance, is already there before someone enters a room and waits for the characters leaving again. This evokes the typically Japanese impression of overlong shots (a favorite Ozu technique):

With Nobody Knows Kore-eda started to include close-ups but not yet shot - reverse-shot setups which would enable the viewer to be in the middle of the conversation [Kore-eda has included this device in his latest film Kiseki (2011), although only sparely]. The next clip is a shot - reverse-shot situation from Clint Eastwood's Japanese Letters from Iwo Jima followed by a typical Kore-eda conversation among adults (from Still Walking, 2008). Especially older characters hardly look at each other when they are talking. So whenever there is real eye contact it feels like a visual accent:

It's hardly a co-incidence that we see the father/grandfather through a doorframe. Kore-eda's grandfather characters usually keep aloof for a long time. In the next clip dialogue continues even after the grandfather (the protagonist's father) is out of the frame while we are focusing on the son's silent reaction that suggests a difficult father-son relationship:

By contrast, in Nobody Knows the mother-son-relationship is reversed: The fickle mother burdens Akira with the responsibility for his younger siblings. Again Akira is a taciturn observer and again we witness both characters performing daily routines:

Akira: "Are you coming home late?"
Mother: "Tonight? Which day is it? Yes, it could get late."
Akira: "Do you eat when you come home?"
Mother: "What's on the menu?"
Akira: "Maybe curry."
Mother: "Curry? Well, then keep something for me. That'd be nice, maybe I'll eat it."
A Sense of Space
Japanese cinema has always been good at communicating atmosphere and a feeling for the characters' surroundings. Kore-eda in particular reveals the personality of his characters by repetition and variation of daily routines like cooking, cleaning or shopping. All these details add up to characters we seem to have known for a long time. And since we keep getting new information on them over the whole length of the movie they stay interesting. By repeating their way to school or to the supermarket we slowly get an impression of their environment. The following montage of Akira's way to the supermarket not only indicates seasons (the tree in the upper left corner) but also how Akira feels when ascending or descending the stairs.

Downplaying emotional moments
One of the outstanding strengths of Kore-eda's films is his handling of emotional or even melodramatic scenes. As the following two clips demonstrate, they hardly evoke any emotions when seen out of context although they depict moments within the story that are truly heartbreaking and it is hardly possible to see them dry-eyed within the context of the film.

When Akira's sister discovers that Akira faked the last sign of life of their mother she does not confront him or show any emotion. But since the audience knows that this discovery is breaking her heart we are deeply moved nonetheless:

Kore-eda's films are in line with Japanese cinema's great humanistic tradition which reveals itself in characters who constantly seek to get rid of selfish behaviour. Moreover, there is a higher-than-average amount of well-meaning and benevolent characters.

When Akira is finally out of money he still appears in the supermarket as usual. Without a word he receives the necessary food from an employee he has slowly befriended over the course of a year.

Altruism is a universal concept that works with almost any audience - as Kore-eda demonstrates - even without the help of sweeping music and emotional close-ups.

The only animation director that shares many traits of Kore-eda's style (though relying heavily on romantic music und close-ups) might be Takahata Isao whose films keep intriguing me more everytime I manage to see one of them.

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