After winning the Palme d’Or—the highest prize awarded—at the 71st Cannes Film Festival in France for his movie Manbiki Kazoku (Shoplifters), Japanese film director Hirokazu Kore-eda returned home on the night of May 23 to a press conference at Haneda Airport in Tokyo.
He told the waiting media: “Little by little, after seeing the happy faces of my staff and the film’s cast, I am beginning to feel I really achieved this award…. I’ll sleep with the trophy, at least tonight.”
It is the first time in 21 years that a Japanese film has garnered the top Cannes Festival award. The last time was in 1997, when Shohei Imamura’s film Unagi (The Eel) received the Palme d’Or accolade. As a consequence, about 150 news reporters thronged Kore-eda’s press conference on his arrival.
Referring to the reason his film won the top prize, the 55-year-old director said, “Following the awards presentation ceremony, members of the Cannes Festival jury came up to us, commenting enthusiastically about the performance of [the film’s leading actress] Sakura Ando. They praised her a great deal, so I am convinced that she captured their hearts.”
In reply to a question about what he wanted to do from now on, Kore-eda noted: “I come from a career as a TV drama and documentary director. It is in my character to be an observer of things, so I’d like to continue to be involved in the production of TV programs, too.”
Shoplifters is scheduled for general release beginning June 8. It is a story about a family living in a dire financial situation, barely scraping out a living by repeating such petty crimes as shoplifting in downtown Tokyo. The cast of characters includes Sakura Ando and Lily Franky.
Advance screenings of the film will be held on June 2-3 in commemoration of winning the Palme d’Or, according to the movie’s distributor (check your local listings for theaters and schedules near you). It will also be screened overseas, most likely in 149 countries and territories, the distributor said.
Here are excerpts from the press conference with Hirokazu Kore-eda.
It has now been three days since you won the award. Do you have any new feelings about capturing the Palme d’Or?
The fact that such a large number of media reporters have gathered here reminds me of how significant the Palme d’Or is. However, I am just beginning to sense my real feelings about winning the reward, bit by bit. It’s just the beginning, I guess.
What would you like to do when you arrive home tonight?
As I’ve just caught my breath a bit by taking a shower, I’d like to reply to a mountain of messages through LINE and e-mail, even if I only send very brief ones to each of them.
With the award having been brought to Japan for the first time in 21 years, what do you think has been missing from Japan’s TV dramas and films in the past two decades, if anything?
It’s a really hard question to answer. I still feel attached to movie production using film, and the film texture may be present in my pictures when screened, at least to some extent. But screening nowadays has been digitalized, and the way movies are shown to the audience has changed significantly. To be honest, I have yet to decide how I should respond to this trend, whether to deal with it aggressively or not.
Was there anything that you felt surprised at about Jyo Kairi, the child actor in Shoplifters?
About Jyo? It’s hard to express in words, but once seen through the lens, he looks quite coquettish. While he normally is really a naïve and cheerful boy, when seen through lens, Jyo has—let me say, more than a little bit of amorousness. This was my first impression of him.
I didn’t hand him the script for the film, so Jyo didn’t figure out the story’s plot. He spent almost all his time on the set playing with Miyu Sasaki, who acted as his younger sister. However, he was competent enough to make close observations of the adults around him and was able to start sensing which cut or segment was about to be filmed at the moment. Jyo seems to be the type of child who is able to make use of his detailed observations of those around him on the set for playing his roles well.
Jyo said he closely observed what you, the director, were doing. He often refers to certain of your mannerisms. Did you imagine that Jyo was so curious about your behavior?
I had no idea about that. Was he curious about any one of my habits? I cannot help but throw my hands up!
Apparently, you often ate a bowl of ramen by soaking a croquette in it, didn’t you? Jyo was quoted as saying he would like to ask you about that.
Well, are you asking me why I think it a good idea to dip a croquette into the ramen bowl? The answer is, the oil and potato contained in the croquette melt into the ramen soup exquisitely, in a way everybody would likely think preferable. It’s quite delicious. I assure you, it’s worth a try.
What do you think is necessary for Japan’s film world to develop further?
There is a mountain of tasks that should be undertaken to face the challenge. Looking at things around me, it is my impression that there has been a decrease in instances of planned films becoming crystalized into an actual film based on an original script written by a director or centered around a director’s individual way of thinking.
In light of this, I have been trying to work with other directors with the same perspective as mine. I expect that, by doing so, I will be also be stimulating myself. So, I’m now out to go steadily hand-in-hand with those directors. First of all, during and after this year, I’d like to have several people make their debut as directors, which I’ll buckle down and focus on properly.
Why did you make a stopover in New York after attending the Cannes Film Festival?
Sorry, but I cannot comment as it would be problematic to discuss details of the matter right now. Winning the Palme d’Or went far beyond my expectations. When I originally planned my trip, I scheduled an appointment in the U.S. on the way back home to discuss our next film project. Please wait until there is a formal announcement about the project, which will probably come sometime soon.
What happened right after the award ceremony?
During the formal dinner that followed the ceremony, Cate Blanchett, this year’s jury president for the festival, was talking very, very enthusiastically about the performance of Sakura Ando in Shoplifters. She said, “Her performance, particularly in the scene of weeping bitterly, was truly impressive. If the actresses who were members of the jury this year wept that way in their future films, it would be no problem to think they were copying Ando’s example.”
Through that conversation, I understood for sure that Ando’s presence in the film was profoundly important, to the extent that it strongly captivated the actresses among the jury members.
Chang Chen, a Taiwanese star, pointed out the cut in the film where the Shoplifters family members appeared on their home’s side porch and stared up at the sky to watch the fireworks, though they couldn’t actually be seen. He thought the scene was splendid and praised our filming very much. We had a such a good time with all the jury members saying, one after another, that they were moved by our film.
What do you think especially deserves viewers’ attention in Shoplifters?
The ensemble of cast members functioned very well this time, I think. But I’d like to refrain from calling it the culmination of what I’ve been aiming at for years—saying so might sound as if the latest film has marked a peak in my career as a director. I am a bit satisfied with the way I’ve been working for the past 15 years or so on how to produce roles played by child actors. In addition, there was a sense of kindred spirit between every member of the cast and me. Everyone had a deep grasp of what I wanted to film and the emotions I felt necessary to draw out from each act and scene.
Among the cast were Kirin Kiki and Lily Franky in addition to Sakura Ando and Mayu Matsuoka, who all contributed to forming the six key characters in a superbly well-balanced manner. The cast members were all adorable and highly responsive in understanding the roles played by their opposites, so I could start filming the scenes successfully from the very initial cut of the movie.
I was able to make the film in an environment very favorable to a director, which was conducive to our winning the Palme d’Or. So, I’d like to call for the audience to focus, of course, on the performances of the actors.
How do you rate Shoplifters compared to your other films?
You’re asking what I felt when the film was just brought to completion, aren’t you? As I said before, the cast was wonderful. Their performances gave me the experience of witnessing many special moments—particularly such scenes as the one where Sakura Ando wept bitterly.
In that sense, a range of human chemistry took place on the set, which I believe resulted in a good film, thanks to not only the cast but also the staff. Those are my real feelings about Shoplifters.
As the question-and-answer session ended, auteur Kore-eda held up the Palme d’Or trophy that he had earlier called weighty, pausing for photos with a broad smile. He then put the trophy back in its box and left the press room, smiling.
(For a link to the article on the press conference, click here)