Video: The world according to Koreeda

How Japan’s modern master revives our taste for everyday life.

:: kogonada

The cinema of Koreeda Hirokazu is defined by moments of everyday life. Whatever potential there is for heightened drama – the suicide of a husband, a cult massacre, abandoned children – it is diffused by the familiar rhythms of everydayness. This attention to the everyday must be understood within the context of death, which plays a significant role in all of Koreeda’s films. It is death that deepens our sense of life and makes even the most mundane moment seem profound.

However, in life we often seek to escape this everydayness, and movies have always been generous in providing such escape. It is startling then to be confronted by a film that offers everydayness instead. I once screened Edward Yang’s A One and a Two… (Yi Yi) for a class, and afterwards heard smart, thoughtful students wonder why such a film would even be made.

“It was like watching paint dry,” said one girl.

Yi Yi is absolutely not like watching paint dry – unless you think the experience of human existence is like watching paint dry. And maybe this is the point. Everyday life seems boring and slow to us.

There is a critical relationship between cinema and everyday life in this regard. Walker Percy suggests that for moviegoers everydayness is the enemy. Movies not only offer escape, but in doing so, they alter our taste for everyday life. Jean Mitry asked, “Why is it that life seems so dreary after we leave the cinema?” Is it possible that our regular consumption of the extraordinary makes the ordinary taste even more bland in comparison?

I grew up on a steady diet of movies that made everyday life seem less and less interesting. But along the way, I encountered films that offered a different sensibility. I found that when I left the cinema after watching these films, everyday life didn’t seem more dreary or bland, but more meaningful and savoury. In a way, these films helped restore my taste for the everyday.

Of all contemporary filmmakers, Koreeda Hirokazu has most consistently served this kind of cinematic dish. For this reason, he is often compared to Ozu Yasujirô. In recent interviews, Koreeda seems to be shunning this comparison, and you can understand why. They’re not the same filmmakers. Their styles and content are different.

I think the reason we compare Koreeda to Ozu is because his cinema tastes like Ozu’s. When we leave his films we experience a similar aftertaste, which is to say, a deeper sense of life. And it turns out that the everyday is a lot like tofu (which may explain why Ozu referred to himself as a tofu maker). It may seem bland in comparison to the spectacle of other dishes and desserts being offered, but if we happen to stumble upon a master chef capable of bringing out its subtle flavours, it will change the way we experience tofu forever.

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