When I first interviewed Naomi Kawase in 1998, after she won the Cannes Film Festival’s Camera d’Or award for her first feature, “Moe no Suzaku” (“Suzaku”), I remarked on her “quietly stubborn determination” to persist in the face of various detractors. If anything, criticism has increased in the intervening years. Feminists have attacked her for making apolitical personal documentaries, and her fiction films are favorite pinatas of critics voting in the annual edition of Eiga Geijutsu magazine’s “Worst Ten” poll. At the same time she has garnered many awards and honors here and abroad, including seven invitations to the Cannes festival — the most of any living Japanese director.
The reception for her latest film, “An,” exemplifies the sort of extreme reactions Kawase inspires. After more than two decades of making movies based on her own themes and scripts — often reflecting her own life experiences — she chose to film the work of another writer, longtime associate Durian Sukegawa. She is aiming for a larger audience with the story of an elderly woman with leprosy (Kirin Kiki) who has suffered lifelong discrimination but quietly perseveres and gently inspires those around her, beginning with her talent for making an (red-bean jam).