Colliding Truth and Fiction: Subjectivity and Emotion in the Films of Kore-eda Hirokazu
One of the debates at the forefront of most creative arts communities is that of the boundary between the real and the imaginary. With the progress of technology - the invention of the camera, the perfection of digital manipulation, the development of better processes with which to fool the consumer - artists and creators are given the tools with which to explore and tamper with the properties of both fictional and factual modes of expression.
Cinema, it seems, has this notion hard-wired into its make-up, as the marriage of photography, movement, colour and sound can give the impression of reality, no matter how staged or composed the resulting length of film is. Fiction can be presented with the emotional impact of real life, just as much as observed events can be dressed up with compelling style. This gives rise to particular filmmakers that experiment with the form's properties on both sides of this spectrum, creating fictional dramas that, through the aesthetics of naturalism or realism, approximate a kind of truth, or by crafting documentary films that foreground either its veracity or subjectivity.
Kore-eda Hirokazu is one of many directors that have worked in both fictional and documentary filmmaking, but he has found particular success and notability in his treatment of both reality and fiction. Starting out as a documentary filmmaker for television, he created films such as However... (Shikashi - Fukushi kirisute no jidainni, 1991), August Without Him (Kare No Ina Hachigatsu Ga, 1994) and Without Memory (1996), which each display a certain creative approach to the form, revealing to the viewer some of the boundaries of filmed reality, exhibited in the use of narrative structure, the image's relation to truth, the development of character, and the position of the narrator-director himself in the process of presenting factual storytelling.
Likewise, once Kore-eda shifted towards fictional filmmaking with Maborosi (Maboroshi no hikari, 1995), he was greeted with praise from the international critical community. However, after displaying monumental aesthetic power in his debut feature, which garnered awards on the festival circuit (most notably a Golden Osella for the director in Venice), Kore-eda pursued in his later films a more explicitly experimental relationship with both staged and emotional truth.
After Life (Wandafuru raifu, 1998) playfully mixes up a heightened fantasy setting (that of a beaurocratic limbo between life and death) with staunchedly naturalistic techniques (location shooting, natural lighting) and a documentary-like twist, blurring the boundary between memory, fiction, and cinema itself. Further works in the director's ouvre would develop this fascination with a filmic reality in less overt ways, with Distance (2001), Nobody Knows (Dare mo shiranai, 2004) and Still Walking (Aruitemo, aruitemo, 2008) being rooted in a more gentle, organic sort of naturalism that, through anti-Hollywood approaches to character and narrative, seem to unfold before the viewers' eyes with a beguiling sincerity.
This essay will explore, drawing examples from a number of his films, how Kore-eda represents truth (be it emotional or objective) in both his documentary and fictional work, and how these films drawn out his interest in memory, character, and the tenets of filmmaking. In particular, focus will be placed on the three aforementioned documentaries, After Life and Still Walking, to show how these issues are central to the approach, and key to the appeal, of the director's cinema.
Tomorrow: Documentary as Structure: However... and August Without Him. Thanks for reading.