Hirokazu Kore-eda isn't just one of the most recognizable auteur filmmakers in his native Japan, but worldwide: His narrative debut, 1995's Maboroshi no hikari, premiered at the Venice International Film Festival, where it won a Golden Osella Award (the festival's award for cinematography). Subsequent Kore-eda films have bowed at fests across North and South America and in Europe: He won the Cannes Film Festival's Jury Prize for 2013's Like Father, Like Son and the Palme d'Or in 2018 for Shoplifters. The latter was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (the category is now called Best International Feature Film).
Having garnered international acclaim, Kore-eda went abroad himself for 2019's The Truth, his first film set outside of Japan and not in his native language. His newest film, Broker, took him to South Korea, and features a predominately South Korean cast toplined by Song Kang-ho.
"The experience was invaluable, really," the filmmaker says through an interpreter. "I questioned how much direction I could give to the actors who didn't speak the same language, who I didn't really understand their languages as well. It made me explore different viewpoints and experiment with different methods too, so I really felt like it made me grow as a result."
Broker centers on two "brokers" (played by Song and Dong-won Gang) who sell infants surrendered at a local baby box to affluent couples, operating outside the bureaucracy of the adoption system. When a young mother (Ji-eun Lee) discovers what's happening, she joins the men and a plucky orphan, Hae-jin, on a road trip to ensure her own baby finds a good home. In its approach to unconventional found families, the film is reminiscent of Shoplifters before it.
"I do see those films as twins almost," Kore-eda notes. Both films originated from his research for the child-swap drama, Like Father, Like Son. "Both films deal with unlikely families, which goes beyond their blood ties, biological families... Broker is more about mothers, and how a mother turns into a mother."
Following Broker, Kore-eda returned home to make his first movie set in Japan since Shoplifters. Shot in secret in the spring and summer of 2022, the film, titled Monster, is now in post-production. "I came back to Japan, and I feel like I'm a lot more attuned than before, even more so perhaps. You know like within photos, the pigments is a lot brighter and clearer. Everything is a lot more detailed," he reflects of his experiences abroad. "I've turned 60 this year, but I feel like I could grow even further really."
Below, Kore-eda shares with A.frame five of his favorite films and the impact that they've each had on him.
Directed by: Hou Hsiao-Hsien | Written by: Chu Tʻien-wen and Wu Nien-jen
I saw Dust in the Wind in the '80s, before I turned into a film director. It was shot by the Taiwanese film director Hou Hsiao-Hsien. I was initially drawn to it because my father was born in Taiwan. When I saw it, I could see the images and sceneries of what my father would've seen in Taiwan. So, I was like, 'This is what he was talking about. This is what he would've seen.'
It was very different to the films that were out around the time, because it wasn't so driven by a plot. It was focused on the people, the local people who really lived in that place. Also, the landscape and the natural soundscape of the trains passing, the wind blowing, all those kinds of things. It really depicted the real world with the real people in it. When I saw that, I was like, 'If I ever shoot a film of my own, something like this would be what I'd like to create.'
Directed by: Ken Loach | Written by: Barry Hines, Ken Loach and Tony Garnett
Ken Loach is somebody who I modeled myself on when it comes to directing and working with children. Around the time I shot Nobody Knows, Ken Loach was in Japan. I had an opportunity to talk with him one-on-one. I asked him how best to work with children, what is the best way to bring the best performances from them. And I learned a lot. He's really a mentor in this field, because Ken Loach is very clear in the role of the director — how best to bring out the best in the actors, and also what is the motif that you would like to portray in those films.
Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel
Directed by: Mikio Naruse | Written by: Yôko Mizuki
I didn't enjoy it at all when I watched it as a teenager, actually. I really enjoyed watching Akira Kurosawa films in my teens. When I thought about Japanese films, that was who I went to. But you get older. As you go through life, there are lots of mistakes, failures, and separations. Whenever I encountered something that didn't go well, I watched Floating Clouds again.
As I got older, this film just showed me different things every single time. The Floating Clouds that I've seen in my 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, they all took different shapes. It stunned me, because it showed the potential of the film. I was like, 'Wow. This is the real effect that film has on people.' That is something that I would like to create. I hope that my films depict life in that way. I think the great films do that.
Written and Directed by: Víctor Erice
El Sur — and also his debut — The Spirit of the Beehive, both of them are my favorites. What's amazing about his films is that they almost feel like silent films, even though it's obviously in color and it's a talkie. But it really shows the fundamental forms of the film. It's something that I would like to replicate, ideally, in what I'm creating at the moment. But it's almost impossible. I love them with awe, really. I have a huge respect [for them]. Whenever I struggle with something, I always go back to Víctor Erice.
Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel
Directed by: Éric Rohmer | Written by: Marie Rivière and Éric Rohmer
A lot of people admire Rohmer and how he shoots his films — in the small number of crew members, with natural light. That's something everyone aspires to do. They think it's an easy thing to do if it's a self-funded independent film, but it's not. To create films with that level of lightness, that flowing storyline, and also to direct with such freedom is a very, very challenging process. It's something that I came to realize as well. It's not an easy thing to do at all.
Especially when it comes to The Green Ray (Le rayon vert). What's interesting is that the plot is very different to what is considered the standard American model. It doesn't follow set plot points. There are sudden changes — for no reason, something might happen — and protagonists might end up with huge luck towards the end of the film. But I think, as I got older, I realized that maybe life is a bit like Rohmer films. It's not a set plot, but there are lots of unpredictable things. That's why I would go back and watch these films whenever I'm struggling, or whenever I stumble upon something.