Director Kore’eda on his ’24 -hour’ epic

by Mark Schilling

Hirokazu Kore’eda began directing in 1991, while working for TV Man Union, a major TV production company. His first theatrical feature, 1995′s “Maboroshi no Hikari” (English title: “Maboroshi”), was selected for the Venice Film Festival competition — a rare honor for a tyro director. His international breakthrough, however, came in 1998 with “Wonderful Life,” and his 2004 followup, “Dare mo shiranai (Nobody Knows),” a drama about children abandoned by their mother, was screened in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, where 15-year-old star Yuya Yagira won the Best Actor prize.

This is your first real home drama — a basic genre in Japanese films. Did you want to see how you stack up against other directors who have worked in it?

I was raised watching home dramas on TV — I’ve seen a lot of them, but I didn’t make this film because I wanted to make a home drama as such. It came from a personal reason — when my mother died, I wanted to express what she had meant to me in a film. I didn’t have any bigger reason than that.

It unfolds in such a short period — only 24 hours. Did you have that time frame in mind from the beginning?

Yes, when I started writing the script I knew I wanted that (time frame). I wanted to show what you can learn about people in the course of an ordinary day, with no big incidents occurring. What you can come to understand about their past and future, their world view.

Not many Japanese films today are being made from original scripts like yours.

It’s easier for me to write an original script. For the script of “Aruitemo Aruitemo,” I used memories of my mother, the personalities of my sister and other people around me. It’s easier for me to write that way. If I had to work from another writer’s (novel or short story), I’d have to understand that person’s world view — and that would be tough.

The story (of the film), though, is not autobiographical. The setting is not my hometown. Also, the family relationships are different.

The casting of Hiroshi Abe is unusual. He’s a big star who has appeared in a lot of comic roles. Also, he’s tall, good-looking — not the usual image of a loser. (laughs).

Yes, this role was something new for him — he’d never played anything similar before. But I thought he could do it. Also, he wanted to do it himself. He looks a bit out of place in a traditional Japanese setting — his face and his size and so on. Just putting him in that kind of setting — in a Japanese-style kitchen, living room and bath — you get a feeling of alienation. That’s what I was looking for.

The father, played by Yoshio Harada, is the villain in some ways, but it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for him — he doesn’t really have a place of his own anymore.

A lot of Japanese men are like that when they retire. You feel sorry for them. The father (in the film) has an office to go to, but most men in his situation don’t and because Japanese houses are so small, they feel uneasy. Also, they aren’t really respected any more.

The character of Atsushi is also interesting. He’s just a kid, but he watches everything around him with this appraising look.

He’s an outsider, like his mother. They bring an outsider’s perspective to the family. His mother has just married into the family and so has to get along with everyone. Her son, though, is different. He doesn’t have any responsibilities, so he can remain an outsider.

It’s a story of a child who is not childlike and an adult — Abe’s character, who is not adultlike, even though he 43 or 44 in the film. That’s typical of Japanese men in their 40s, including me. (laughs)

I had the feeling that you get to see his whole life in the course of the film.

I’m glad to hear that. That was one of my aims: Without that wider perspective you just have a series of incidents that don’t add up to anything. The story takes place in only 24 hours, but I wanted to give a sense of what the family was like in the past and what will happen to it in the future.

There’s this mix of feelings toward the dead son.

Everyone thinks of him in their own way. The hero has this complex about the way he is perceived by his father and mother by the way they compare him to his dead brother. In other words, this ghost from the past fuels his complex. It’s not just a story about parents being sad because their son has died. It’s about the way a death is like a pebble tossed into a pond, making waves that keep spreading, affecting everyone in the family. It’s about how that death has changed the family, 15 years on.