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Tribeca Takes: Kore-eda Talks with Gray and Kim about Stil Walking

TFF 2009 filmmaker Bradley Rust Gray and his wife, filmmaker So Yong Kim, talk with one of their idols, Hirokazu Koreeda, about his new film Still Walking (TFF 2009).

TFF 2009 director Bradley Rust Gray (The Exploding GirlSalt) and his wife, filmmaker So Yong Kim (Treeless Mountain, In Between Days), talk with one of their idols, Hirokazu Kore-eda (Maborosi, After Life, Nobody Knows) about the Japanese director's new film Still Walking (TFF 2009), opening this Friday at IFC Center and premiering on demand today.

So Yong and I first had the honor of meeting one of our favorite directors, Hirokazu Kore-eda, in Toronto about three years ago. At the time, So was preparing to shoot her second feature, Treeless Mountain, in Korea. Since So was interested in directing children and shooting on 16mm, she was very excited to talk to Mr. Eda. Mr. Eda nodded, grabbed a translator, and So asked her question. Mr. Eda thought for a moment, his face went bright, and he went into a very long and elaborate explanation in Japanese. So was watering at the mouth in anticipation. When he finally finished, the translator turned to us and said, "Eda-san says 16mm very good!"

We never found out what he really said. We were very honored and excited to have this second opportunity to speak with Mr. Eda about his films.

—Bradley Rust Gray


So Yong Kim
: We love your films, and we have watched so many. I am going to ask you more specifically about Still Walking, and Brad is going to ask you more about directing and creative interests. We have to split it; otherwise we will bicker. [Laughs]
I read in the press notes and also during the Q&A at Tribeca you said the mother character—50% of her lines were actually said to you by your own mother. I was wondering if the father character is also based on your own father, and if it is (or if not), how did you create the relationship dynamics between them?

Hirokazu Kore-eda: My father wasn’t a doctor, and he certainly wasn’t a patriarchal and authoritarian presence in the home. So in that sense, in terms of his character, he’s an original creation. But in terms of the larger manifestations of his physical deteriorations—such as there being one topic of conversation, which is the baseball he played as a kid, and his leg is not so good anymore, so he’s now barely able to keep up with the family—those kinds of physical deterioration are modeled after what I saw in my own father in his later years.
So Yong Kim: This film, Still Walking, is so different than your other films in the sense that it’s more personal, that there is so much more of your own personal relationship with your parents embedded in the story. How is that different than writing or developing Maborosi or After Life or the other films that are more fictional?
Hirokazu Kore-eda: In the case of, for instance, Nobody Knows, it's a fictional story, but it's based on a real incident, so I did everything I could to research about the fictional characters. Then I added on to that the elements from my own childhood. So there was a basis, and then I added on parts of my own experience as a child.

But with Still Walking, it’s the opposite. There’s the reality that I experienced, and I had to figure out how to move away from that, how to create the critical distance between myself and my own experience. Otherwise, it will become too, as we say in Japanese, "kind of wet," or sentimental, sticky. It’s a matter of balance. I did both of those processes in both films. It’s a matter of which I did more of for each film.
Bradley Rust Gray: I have a technical question. We were in Chicago, and a friend came over and said she just saw “the best movie ever made,” and it was Maborosi. Your film won the Chicago festival, so we got to see it.
Hirokazu Kore-eda: A long time ago?
Bradley Rust Gray: Yes, when it came out. 1995? I heard this story that you did light tests for a year, that there’s no lighting in the movie?
Hirokazu Kore-eda: It’s mostly no lighting, [but] I did not do light tests for a year. I didn’t have any money yet. So I just shot for a day in each season—for instance, to see what the snow looked like. The costume designer was a really super-famous, powerful woman. And she said, “I design my clothes for no lighting, for no light, and to be able to be seen in the darkness.” And the reason I did what she said to do was because in the previous film, the director put lighting on her clothes, and she just took all her clothes and walked away from the movie. And the movie ended. It stopped production.
Bradley Rust Gray: They never made it?
Hirokazu Kore-eda: No. So I [figured I] better listen to her. I never really wanted to light a lot anyway. I like that semi-darkness of the Japanese old house, but she just helped to nudge me in that direction. I didn’t get bullied.
Bradley Rust Gray: How did you make the snow, or is it a secret? The camera is really high, and there’s a long shot, and in the middle it started to snow.
Hirokazu Kore-eda: It snowed.
So Yong Kim: Really? We thought all these years it was man-made. 
Hirokazu Kore-eda: No, I was lucky.
Bradley Rust Gray: But you can take the credit.

Hirokazu Kore-eda: That peninsula [where we filmed] juts out onto the Japan Sea coast, and for whatever reason, that geographical formation leads to very malleable weather all year round. Nevertheless, on that particular day, we started under cloudy skies, and suddenly the wind picked up, and that led to the snow falling. And we all took time out to bow our heads to the gods to thank them for our good fortune.

So Yong Kim:
I think interviews are mostly for other filmmakers to learn from directors. Back when it came out, I read an interview about Nobody Knows, because I wanted to learn how you made the film and worked with your actors, and with the camera, etc. The question I have about Still Walking is about working with an ensemble of professional actors. How is that different than working with nonactors, like in Nobody Knows?
Hirokazu Kore-eda: In the case of Still Walking, I wrote a very, very detailed, hammered-out screenplay, and then I read through it with the actors, and then based on that I revised the script. Then I did blocking on the set, and then I had the actors read, just to make sure they could read the lines in the time it took to walk across the set. I did all this before shooting to ensure that the atmosphere would look lived-in by the actors.
And with Nobody Knows, you know, it’s the same goal as with Still Walking. But because I had essentially nonactors, even though there was a script, I never gave it to actors at all. I never gave them dialogue until I was in the room, ready to roll the camera. And then I would say, “Why don’t you try saying something like this?”

So, I took the opposite approach with actors in opposite situations. With the veterans, I timed it within an inch of its life to make it look natural and lived-in, and with the nonactors, I did it 100% spontaneous to make it look lived-in and spontaneous.
So Yong Kim: Which way do you prefer to work?
Hirokazu Kore-eda: I don’t really have a particular filmmaking style or method. The goal is finding how to make a particular character in a particular film or setting look as charming and appealing as possible. So whatever it takes.
Personally, I prefer the Nobody Knows method, but there is the guilt that I am stealing laughter and smiles from children for my movie. I have genuine guilt about that, and I had none of that for Still Walking, because I hadn’t stolen anything from anybody.
Bradley Rust Gray: Because they knew what they were getting into?
Hirokazu Kore-eda: Because I haven't stolen their genuine smiles. I suppose I could just become a robber, a thief.
Bradley Rust Gray: You feel guilty over stealing? I think we feel the opposite…
Hirokazu Kore-eda: [Laughing.] I don’t like people who don’t feel guilty.

Bradley Rust Gray: I think there’s a truth in what you are talking about—like if someone is laughing and really, genuinely there, and you’re taking that... but you’re finding the truth or reality of something that’s honest. For us, I think we look for that. [Looks to his wife.]

So Yong Kim: Yeah, but…
Bradley Rust Gray: You’re not exploiting it, but you’re trying to create an environment where it naturally happens.

Hirokazu Kore-eda: I think at the very least, you have to treat it like the snow, you have to be grateful. Because that’s what differentiates novels and the theatre from movies, is that you have fortunate accidents, and you can record them. That’s what distinguishes filmmaking, but if you start to take all the credit, you become something else. So you have to at least join hands in gratitude for the children’s smiles.

Bradley Rust Gray:
What films or filmmakers do you like that are most unlike yours?

Hirokazu Kore-eda: [thinks for a while] Tim Burton.
Bradley Rust Gray: Aha. Could you make a film like his? Would you? Why or why not?
Hirokazu Kore-eda: It’s very unlikely that I would ever make anything like that. But what I like is the handmade feel of his fables—that he doesn’t resort to CG.

So Yong Kim: You are your own editor. How does your editing process work? Are the shots of the landscape already worked out in the script, or do they come as you are editing and building the film? Do you follow the rhythm of the film as it goes along, or is it already scripted?

Hirokazu Kore-eda: It changes a lot in the editing room from the script. Especially in the case of Nobody Knows. Once I shot one season, I edited it. And then I wrote the screenplay for the next season. So it felt very organic. In Still Walking, I actually shot during the day, cut the scenes at night, and then revised the screenplay for the next morning’s shoot.
So Yong Kim: How long was the shoot?
Hirokazu Kore-eda: A month and a half.

So Yong Kim: Wow! That’s amazing. You didn’t sleep much, I imagine.
I read in the press notes that Still Walking was launched by the experience of regret. It seemed to me that even though the story was borne from regret, the main character found hope in his life. Is that something you found while you were writing the story, or is that something you deliberately developed in the story?

Hirokazu Kore-eda: It’s definitely something that I achieved through writing, although I don’t… it’s fine for you to think of it as hope, [but] I actually don’t think of it that way. For me, it’s about the continuity of the cycle of generations, and what gets handed on, the stories, and life itself, and family lore. It’s more that sort of cycle, with one generation passing it on to the next. That’s what I came to.

Bradley Rust Gray: It reminds me of Ozu, this one.
Hirokazu Kore-eda: I’m not very conscious of Ozu [when I'm working]. Ozu is such a giant of the cinema.
Bradley Rust Gray: You can’t think about him, but I think the spirit is the same.
SK: The soul.
Bradley Rust Gray: Can you recommend any books that you’ve been reading?

Hirokazu Kore-eda: The new one by Kazuo Ishiguro, Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall. It’s a short story collection.
So Yong Kim: Domo arigato.

Still Walking opens Friday (August 28) at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Starting today, it's also available on demand through IFC Films.

Read more about Gray and Kim's working relationship here.

Watch the trailer for Still Walking:



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