Cannes winner Kore-eda talks about Japan’s hidden poor

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Veteran director Hirokazu Kore-eda says his Cannes Palme d’Or-winning film “Shoplifters” aims to shine a light on social problems in Japan, which he says are still under-portrayed in the country’s cinema production. In an interview in Tokyo, Kore-eda also said he aims to start shooting his next film in Paris this year and has already auditioned some actors for the roles.

Kore-eda scooped the top prize at the Cannes film festival with a movie described as a “modern-day ‘Oliver Twist’,” about a bunch of misfits and crooks in Tokyo who form a family. The film was seen at Cannes as showing people finding comfort even in the worst economic conditions and exposing how the state can fail individuals struggling at the lower end of society. Kore-eda said that “the problem of poverty” in Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, “had an impact on the foreign viewer.”

“At the beginning of the century, when I went to foreign film festivals, I was often told in a critical way that there not many films showing social or political problems in Japanese cinema. It was seen as a fundamental weakness,” he told the Press. While the number of films taking on this difficult subject matter has increased, the criticism stands, the 55-year-old said. In his film, he said he was aiming “not to avoid the problem of poverty that exists in the background of the Japanese society I live in.”

After winning fame with the Palme d’Or top prize in Cannes, Kore-eda said he was starting to look beyond Japan, a “long-held” desire for him. However, he admitted that filming in Paris would not be easy for this Tokyo resident. The Japanese capital is “a familiar place to me and therefore easy to shoot in but with Paris, I don’t know its features, what feels right or wrong. I don’t know anything.” “I’ll go there to work out the lay of the land,” after “Shoplifter” opens in Japan, he added.

“I’ve been contacted by some French actresses and I started to write with them in mind. There is no official announcement yet, but I will start shooting this year,” he revealed. As in “Shoplifters”, Kore-eda has constructed his own cinematic family of actors who appear in many of his films, including Hiroshi Abe, and Kirin Kiki, who often plays nasty grandmother figures.

He said he had some concerns about working with non-Japanese given he “only speaks Japanese” and admitted it would be a “big challenge” to shoot with foreign actors. “I was 50 percent hope, 50 percent fear, but as the auditions went on, the hope ratio won out. I reckon we can make it work.”

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