Naomi Kawase, the first Japanese director to be a member of the Cannes jury, is returning to the competition this year with a film she has dubbed her “masterpiece.”
And for an auteur who has already bagged the Camera D’Or and the Grand Prix, her sights are set on the top honor — the Palme D’Or.
“There is no doubt that this is my masterpiece,” she said of “Futatsume no mado” (literally, “the second window,” but titled in English “Still the Water”), which has been selected to compete in this year’s premiere competition.
“This is the first time that I have said this about a film,” she said. “After the Camera D’Or and the Grand Prix, there is nothing I want more than the Palme D’Or. I have my eyes on nothing else.”
Kawase, a 44-year-old divorcee and mother, is a high achiever in Japanese cinema and one of only two women in contention for the main prize at Cannes this year.
Her work, including the disturbing “Genpin,” a documentary about natural childbirth, is much admired for its elucidation of the human condition.
Kawase’s parents were already separated by the time she was born. They divorced when she was about 18 months old.
“I was raised by my aunt’s family. My aunt didn’t have a child, so she and her husband took care of me like their real daughter.”
That family has remained central to her throughout her adult life — surviving the death of her adoptive father at the age of 14, she still lives with her adoptive mother to this day.
Kawase has never achieved a great deal of commercial success, having spent her entire career in independent film and documentary circles that have nonetheless brought great critical acclaim.
It is, in Kawase’s words, the job of cinema to “concentrate on love or passion,” characteristics that saw her thrust into the Cannes spotlight on last year’s judging panel.
“Being on the jury was a rare experience,” she told reporters in Tokyo in April.
“I could really feel then, as a writer and as a human being, that cinema cannot exist without love.”
“Still the Water” is an ode to nature, which explores relations and family through the lives of two teenagers growing up on Amami Oshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture.
Two weeks before the festival opened, Kawase was still putting the finishing touches on her work, which she has linked inextricably with Cannes, with posters and websites always referencing the festival.
She has earned the right to be considered a fixture of the firmament at the festival, having burst onto international consciousness with her 1997 award of the Camera D’Or for “Suzuka.”
That success was followed in 2007 with the Grand Prix for “The Mourning Forest.”
As prestigious as it is in the film world, Cannes, to her, is like the adoptive family that she values so much.
The family, she says is the unit that “gives me the clearest idea of human bonds.”
“When I think of my own history, it makes me feel a strong temptation to realize things that I could not achieve in my childhood.”
For Kawase, this year that means only one thing: the Palme D’Or.