Kore-eda is an Underrated Genius

Not many people have heard of Hirokazu Kore-eda, the Japanese filmmaker. Although most of his films regularly attend international film festivals, he has not achieved the wider recognition he rightfully deserves. Despite having been nominated five times in the Cannes Film Festival and winning the Jury Prize for his film Like Father, Like Son in 2013. His films are intimate domestic dramas, languid in pace and muted in overt sentiment, but rich in quotidian detail and imbued with unexpectedly deep emotional resonance. Family is the heart of almost every Kore-eda film, usually formulated around some central lack or absence: a husband’s inexplicable suicide in Maborosi (1995); the mother who abandons her four young children in Nobody Knows (2004); or the annual clan gathering in Still Walking (2008) to remember the son who died young (Singer 2017: para.3).


A Japanese film that won the Palme d'Or in 2018 and was also nominated for the 2019 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. As a gripping beginning in a supermarket takes us into the life of a poor Japanese family, Kore-eda shows how families can be happy despite living in poverty, while also addressing more fundamental issues such as that of unwanted children and how parents who inadvertently have children endure difficult choices.

Revolving around the Shibata family who are strangely connected through petty theft, Kore-eda intimately explores their everyday life. Osamu and his wife Noboyu are a middle-aged couple living in a dilapidated apartment on the outskirts of Tokyo who have a teenage son named Shotaa and a daughter named Aki. The dire situation of the family also heavily relies on the elderly grandmother whose monthly allowance saves the family from starvation. They live in extreme poverty, but they love each other. ‘We’re connected by our hearts,’ Osamu says with an unhappy grimace. The plot starts when Osamu and Shotta encounter a five-year-old girl named Juri, who was abandoned near their apartment. The subject that the director elaborates on and wants to point out is, whether Juri has the right to choose one of the two families—the family who has found her in the streets, or the family who has abandoned her despite being related by blood. Juri chooses a family that treats her humanely, and thus ensuring a debate on whether individuals can choose their family (Ehrlich 2018: para.2).

In reality, Juri's parents’ act of abandoning her is a reflection of the parents' childhood trauma. This was further emphasised in one of the emotionally intense scenes where the mother and Juri hug each other. The director puts the audience in a dilemma at the end of the film, and this is what adds to the film's impact. The director endeavours to make the audience fall in love with the family of the thieves until the very end of the film. This is a film about abandoned people and the beautiful things that are lost and found between them. It is a film that asks its audience to reflect on where they belong, and on what belongs to them. You do not get to choose your own family, but family is still a choice that you must make over and over again. 

My Opinion

Kore-eda has the soul of a poet and shows us the moonlight, the sea, walking alongside the fences, and the snowman. The strong script, smooth rhythm, and soundtrack are the true qualities of the film. The camera stands still and introduces us gradually to the family members. The cluttered setting of the room, the second-hand clothing, and the way they eat and crave food rudely spreads a sense of anxiety in the audience which very cleverly shows us the social status of the family. 

The director was aware that some scenes might be too long or repulsive. To avoid this, the scenes were transitioned quickly to appealing scenes—such as that of the boy walking alongside the fences. One of the most captivating aspects of the film is the intimate details in frames displaying sex, smoking, tea-boiling, corns in the saucepan, and the fan-spinning. Regarding whether one can choose their parents, I think the formation of the question is wrong and goes against the logic of nature. However, it is not inappropriate to question in this scenario to criticise questionable parenting. 

The Brothers Karamazov—a Russian novel by Dostoevsky about four brothers and the act of patricide—deals with themes of free will, God, family, and suffering. Throughout the subtext of the story, Dostoevsky emphasises the strength of the biological bond between family members. Dimitri Karamazov—the most turbulent of the brothers, holds a sergeant by his beard and mocks him in front of the crowd after throwing him in mud. The ten-year-old son of the sergeant throws himself at Dimitri’s feet and begs him not to hit his father. The child knows his father owes Dimitri a gambling debt and knows the crowd is watching him but still throws himself to defend his father, demonstrating the overwhelming strength of the familial connection.

Dostoevsky, F (1878-1880) The Brothers Karamazov, The Russian Messenger. 

Ehrlich, D (2018) Koreeda Hirokazu is Back with Heart-Shattering Drama about Love & Theft, IndieWire, 2021.

Singer, L (2017) Where to begin with Hirokazu Koreeda, BFI, 2021.

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