Hirokazu Koreeda: Global and Local

Marc Yamada introduced After the Storm for its International Cinema debut and discusses Hirokazu Koreeda as a globally influenced director exploring local issues in Japan.

PROVO, Utah (Apr. 12, 2017)—One of the most unique things about Japan is the high life expectancy. “It has the highest life expectancy in the world for women . . . 87 years old is the average lifespan,” said Marc Yamada, an assistant professor in the BYU Comparative Arts and Letters Department, introducing After the Storm (2016) for its International Cinema debut. “If you are a woman in Japan, you can pretty much expect to live into your mid to late 80s,” Yamada continued.

After the Storm tells the story of a late middle-aged man, Ryota, and his relationship with Yoshiko, his aging mother. “One of the more poignant issues [of the aging of Japan] is the relationships between parents and children. Children who have parents who are 80 or 90 are themselves getting older . . . this film shows some of the complicated relationships that happen,” said Yamada.  

The film centers around this relationship and the mundane aspects of Yoshiko’s life. “In some ways, her life is very tragic,” explained Yamada. Her husband had not been good with money and was unreliable, so when he died she was forced to live in a cheap, city apartment because she could not afford to live out in the suburbs. Her son Ryota has a gambling habit, and his mother worries his poor money handling will result in great misfortune for him and his son.

Despite her difficult situation, Yoshiko tries to make life meaningful for her. Yamada continued, “The beauty of her performance is the way that she can imbue the small daily tasks of her life with meaning . . . it really suggests that she has accepted her position and tried to make the best of it.”

This style of filming, finding small – but meaningful – moments rather than dramatic tension and conflict is called shomin-geki. This is the style that the director, Hirokazu Koreeda, uses in nearly all his films. “Throughout the film, Yoshiko counsels [Ryota] to forget about the past and stop trying to be in the future,” said Yamada. “Living in the moment is kind of a theme across Koreeda’s films.”

Shomin-geki, known also as the “common people genre,” was familiar to Koreeda because of his past film experience. “Koreeda trained as a documentary filmmaker,” explained Yamada. “He started making feature length films in 1995 . . . [his films] are something in the middle, a documentary style but with a fictional story line that I think can in some ways lead to a greater sense of truth in his work.”  

Japanese film is largely independent rather than studio driven because of the success of Japanese, and later, Korean dramas. “People would rather stay home and watch dramas from their computers than go out to films, so studios have lost a lot of power that way,” said Yamada.

The shomin-geki genre, however, has sparked interest in Japanese film critics because of the positive reception these films have received in fairs across the world. One of the best-known filmmakers and founders of this style is the Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu. “Koreeda has been called by some Japanese film critics as ‘the inheritor of Ozu’s legacy’ because of his adoption of the shomin-geki style,” Yamada commented.

Though the themes Koreeda addresses in his films are mostly relatable to Japanese citizens caring for their population of over 33 million elderly people, his films were not created out of a global context. Yamada said, “In many ways, he is a global director, film is a global medium. No director is in a vacuum – there’s always influence from other films and directors.”

Yamada continued, “If he is global, he’s also . . . a local director. I think Japanese cinema wants to claim him as their own and understand where he fits into Japanese cinema history and local traditions. [He’s] really revitalizing Japanese cinema.”  

Hannah Sandorf Davis (B.A. Art History and Curatorial Studies ’17)

Hannah covers events for the International Cinema for the College of Humanities. She is a senior pursuing a degree in art history with a minor in art.