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Hirokazu Kore-eda’s babies-switched-at-birth drama Like Father, Like Son (Soshite Chichi ni Naru) sees the acclaimed director competing for the Palme d’Or at Cannes for the third time, in addition to a nomination in Un Certain Regard for Air Doll in 2009. Like Father Like Son stars singer-turned-actor Fukuyama Masaharu as the father who finds out that due to a hospital mistake the boy he has raised as his son for six years is not his biological child. Kore-eda both writes the screenplays for, and edits, most of his own films, which he says he believes is part of a director’s work. He sat down with The Hollywood Reporter in Tokyo and talked about the odd balance between his popularity abroad and at home, the nature of family ties, the thrill of making his first TV drama series and how he plans to kick back and relax this year.
The Hollywood Reporter: You’re a father yourself, how much did your feelings about parenthood come through in the film?
Hirokazu Kore-eda: That’s right; I have one child, and don’t get to spend enough time with them. It’s different than for mothers, how fathers feel about interacting with their children is a complex thing. I feel it’s complicated and I thought I would try to get the lead actor to try and feel and portray that.
THR: You have a daughter though, so didn’t you think about making the child in the film a girl?
Kore-eda: The connections between father and son are really interesting. It’s really about the relationship between the main character, his son, and then when he becomes a father, how he interacts with his own son. Fatherhood is the theme.
THR: How do you think the film will be received overseas?
Kore-eda: It’s not that I’m not concerned about foreign audiences at all, but it’s not something that is at the forefront of my mind when I make films. With my films until now I don’t think they’ve been seen that differently at home and abroad; people laugh in the same places. I don’t feel there’s a big gap, which is something I’m happy about. I don’t shoot films thinking that I should make a certain part easier to understand for overseas audiences or anything like that. One thing that may be different with this film is that there isn’t widespread adoption in Japan, bringing up children who aren’t related by blood. So there’s a very fundamental sense that families are connected by blood; I think that notion is much stronger in Japan than it is in the West. In the cases of babies that were switched at birth that I researched for the film, pretty much 100 percent of the parents automatically chose their biological child. I guess it’s related to Japanese culture.
THR: Were there a lot of those cases in Japan?
Kore-eda: In the 70s there were quite a few, during the baby boom when there was a shift from giving birth at home to doing so in hospitals, and there was a lack of nurses. The hospitals were overstretched and it occurred quite a bit. A few of the cases ended up in court, though it was usually people suing the hospital rather than disputes over custody.
THR: You started out making TV documentaries, in what ways has that affected the way you make films?
Kore-eda: It’s definitely influenced me, both in good ways and bad. The possibility that something that actually happened is different to what you have in your mind, is always interesting. It’s boring if everything goes according to plan, I try to keep that in mind, and I think that’s from making documentaries. I also like to think on the spot when I’m filming, though half of that is just an excuse for not preparing properly [laughs]. I write screenplays but I usually change things according to the people and the mood on set. It’s hard work for the cast and crew.
THR: And you did a TV drama series last year, how was that different to making films?
Kore-eda: It was mostly the same crew and cast I work with for films, and I shot it with one camera from a script I wrote myself, so in that sense it was pretty much the same. One thing that was different was that the ratings come out as you’re making the next episode. You get feedback as you’re filming. Everyone is looking at the numbers on the set; it was exciting for me though I think it’s stressful for the producers. That made me realize I’m really working in TV now.
THR: You have a lot of fans around the world but there are probably quite a lot of people in Japan who don’t know your name; do you find that odd?
Kore-eda: It is a bit strange. I don’t really mind if people don’t know my name, but if my films did better at the box office in Japan it would be easier to get them made. The balance is a bit off between how well my films do abroad and at home. On the other hand, I’m really grateful that my films get shown at festivals overseas and get theatrical releases in Europe.
THR: How did end up becoming a director?
Kore-eda: I was always a fan, but I actually didn’t go to the cinema much when I was a child, it was mainly watching films at home with my mother. When I went to go to university, I wanted to be an author. But around my university there were cinemas that showed films where the name of the directors came first: Rossellini, Fellini and Truffaut and so on. That’s what made me conscious of what a director was. I’ve been doing it for 30 years now, so I guess it was the right choice, though in another 10 years I might look back and think it was a mistake.
THR: Can you talk about your next project?
Kore-eda: I’m actually planning to take it easy this year. Last year I made this film and did the TV drama, it was a busy time. I have some ideas for future films and I’m going to give them some thought about how I want to approach them. I turn 51 this year and want to kind of take stock and prepare myself for my fifties. I do want to make another family drama, though I’m not sure it will be the next film.
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