We caught up with director Hirokazu Kore-eda

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest film, LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON received its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and won high critical acclaim before being awarded the Jury Prize at the festival. Steven Spielberg has already signed up to direct an English language version of the film, which centres on two families who realised that their children were switched at birth, and they face the impossible choice to either give up the child they have raised, or choose to ignore the truth.
Movies.ie caught up with director Hirokazu Kore-eda at the Cannes Film Festival to find out more about his affecting family drama.

Kore-eda, why are you so concerned with the family unit? You seem to always want to analyse the dysfunctional Japanese family unit…
Hirokazu Kore-eda: Of course this is not the only topic that I address in my films, but I do talk about it in many of my films. It is the subject that is closest to me; I no longer have my father and my mother, I am a father myself, and my position in society has changed. Instead of being a son I have become a father myself, so I am keenly interested in this topic, which is only natural, I think. I want to study the topic further.

In your film, you don’t judge the two families, which are different. You don’t draw any easy conclusions. What motivated your choice of these two families who are completely different in social standing?
HK: I focus on the main character; he is very proud of himself, he is a very proud person, and I wondered what it would be like to be brought up by that kind of a father. I also wanted to create quite a contrast with the other father, so that there would be quite an interruption in the psychology of the father. The father is a winner, and that is why the other is sort of a loser, if one can say so. Naturally, as I wanted to create this total upheaval in the value system of the main character, I decided to depict this other family that lives completely differently. It’s a different social category, social status perhaps, but they live differently.

Your movie talks about social classes and the difference between them, can you talk about this?
HK: My plan wasn’t at all to show the difference in social classes or the state of Japanese society. What I wanted to do was to find a different family, a different father, which would be as shocking as possible for the hero. I wanted to create, in his mind, a healthy shock. Perhaps it was a bit nasty of me; I tried to find someone who would be the total opposite to the main character, and that is why I hit on this other family. The result shows these two aspects of Japanese society, but that wasn’t the purpose of the film. The purpose was to find a character who would be the complete opposite to the main character, who wants to succeed at all costs.

Did your film AFTERLIFE influence the philosophy of LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON?
HK: I didn’t think of that film when I was making this one, however your question makes me think about the time when I said ‘How am I going to finish this film?’. I talked a lot with the whole team, and I decided to finish the film as you see it. In other words the two families come together in front of the shop, and you don’t know which father is the father of which son. It’s a very ambiguous scene; perhaps the beginning of something, of a new kind of gentleness. Perhaps that resembles the tender moments in Afterlife.

How did you cast the children?
HK: I didn’t have any specific criteria for choosing the children. I saw quite a number of children and they made me want to choose them and put them into my film. It was only after seeing the children that I felt so attracted to their personalities and I wrote their parts according to their personalities. I didn’t write to a certain criteria. They just gave me the feeling that I wanted to make a film with them.

How did you write the dialogue for the children?
HK: It’s difficult to explain but I didn’t write everything the children were to say. I tried to listen to the way they talk. When they were playing, they suggested sentences and things to say, and sometimes these were things that they voluntarily came up with. Sometimes, what I did, was to create a situation and see what the children would say in that situation. These are things that just came naturally. It was very spontaneous, and most of the dialogue occurred to them spontaneously when they were playing that day.

How do you hope audiences receive the film?
HK: I never really feel concerned about how the public will react. I don’t make a film to convey a message; I do a film because I want to make a film. I don’t think, either prior to the shooting or afterwards, about how people will view it. Then I see how the audience react and I teach me a lot about my film; they confirm certain things that I wanted to put in my film and it’s the audience that tells me this. It’s not I who want to say this or that in my film; it’s the audience who confirm that they have understood that. That’s what’s important; it’s important for the film to be seen by the largest number of people possible, who react in all sorts of different ways. This confirms what I have been trying to do. I am not going to impose anything.

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON is released in Irish cinemas on October 18th.

Words: Brogen Hayes