After France (“La Vérité”), Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-Eda set up his cameras in South Korea. The result: “Les Bonnes étoiles”, a very beautiful film awarded at Cannes which he tells us about.
A Screenplay Award for Like Father, Like Son in 2013. A Palme d’Or for A Family Affair in 2018. And a Best Actor Award given to Song Kang-Ho this year. Hirokazu Kore-Eda is not only a regular at the Cannes competition: it is more and more frequent to find his opuses on the charts.
Filmed in South Korea, Les Bonnes étoiles was no exception. And if the Japanese filmmaker changes country to set up his cameras, his favorite themes (family, childhood) are there. As well as the emotion that emerges from this story in which a band of crooks tries to sell an infant found in a baby box, where women can drop off their child for recovery.
Once again, the director touches our hearts and moves us. And he does it with a simplicity that we find at home when it comes to evoking his new feature film.
AlloCiné: What was the trigger for this film? A desire to shoot in Korea that gave birth to this story? Or a story you developed that took you to Korea?
Hirokazu Kore-Eda : It’s a bit in between. I really wanted to shoot in Korea, to be able to work with people I had wanted to collaborate with for a long time. And, at the same time, the subject of baby boxes took me to Korea, where the phenomenon is more widespread than in Japan. So it seemed more coherent to shoot there.
And as I was looking for an idea to be able to direct the actors with whom I wanted to shoot, it was a combination of the two factors that led me to make the film in this country.
When did you find out about these baby boxes?
In 2012, when I was preparing Like father, like son [dans lequel un couple découvre que son enfant a été échangé avec un autre à la naissance, ndlr].
Does the fact of changing scenery and going to shoot in Korea, like when you went to France for “The Truth”, contribute to a desire to continue to develop your favorite themes without risking repeating yourself?
Even shooting several films on the same subject in Japan, I never had the feeling of doing the same thing twice. So that’s not really what brought me to Korea in the first place. But, of course, changing country, team or work habits brings freshness. It gives the opportunity to experiment with new things, and it was very rewarding in that regard.
Besides changing environment and team, did shooting in a language other than yours have an impact on your directing? Without going so far as to speak of purity, but perhaps reducing the dialogues to tell more through the image.
No, quite the contrary. Whether it’s for my film in France or the one in Korea, I have the feeling that there have been a lot more words. For cultural reasons in particular, because the French and the Koreans tend to verbalize a lot more, to explain more than the Japanese. So I naturally tended to write a lot more, to make the characters speak more than if they had been Japanese.
But if I have the opportunity to film abroad again, I think that, conversely, I will try, as you say, to reduce the dialogues to focus on something else. It would be a nice challenge.
Even while shooting several films on the same subject, I never had the feeling of doing the same thing twice
In which country would you like to shoot a next film?
I do not really know. But there are Anglo-Saxon actors I want to work with, so I could imagine something in an English-speaking country. Otherwise my father was born in Taiwan, and I would like to be able to make a film that would mix the history of Taiwan and that of Japan. That’s an idea I’ve had for some time.
And who are these Anglo-Saxon actors with whom you would like to work?
It’s secret (laughs) I’m afraid it won’t happen if I say so, so I won’t name them. The problem is that when I meet them, I am very attracted and fascinated by them. At the Oscars, I met Christian Bale who I found very impressive. Javier Bardem too: he has a kind of presence, a very magnetic stature. I have also seen Mads Mikkelsen several times, whom I find really very beautiful. So when I meet them, I necessarily want to work with them.
You said earlier that you manage not to repeat yourself by working around the same themes, and it’s true. But we feel that what binds your films together is an attempt to answer the question “What is family?” in different ways.
I don’t really have that feeling. Or that is in any case not the original intention. It’s not formalized that way in my mind, but I can completely understand that people who see my films can have the feeling that they are linked together by a common thread.
I don’t ask myself this question even if, obviously, I film this community that is the family. And for me it’s like a construction game box, in which I will stack the pieces. But I don’t know, at first, what it will give. So it’s like I have the same playing field, but the game is different every time. And the questions come to me as the film unfolds.
In the case of Lucky Stars, the question that finally emerged was: “Are there lives that don’t deserve to be born?” But answering them was not necessarily the objective of the film. It’s just that a question looms there, and it concerns the legitimacy of life.
You are directing Song Kang-Ho and Doona Bae here, in the same way as you directed Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche when you toured France. For you, does filming in another country also mean showcasing its culture and its icons?
I had a fascination for Catherine Deneuve, because she is iconic and because, in Japan, we no longer have an actress of that age who represents such a symbol for the country. So I wanted to realize in the film this fascination that I had as an admirer. But this is not necessarily the primary goal as far as the actors are concerned.
If I had to shoot in another country, I would also like to film people I don’t know. Young talents. There I especially wanted to try to do it. And as it happened, I am very happy.
WARNING – The question below may contain spoilers as it relates to one of the characters and their evolution during the story. So please move on if you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want to know.
You talked about not answering all the questions. Is it for this reason that you leave several elements unresolved? We can for example imagine that the policewoman played by Doona Bae was abandoned when she was little, but you do not specify it, as if to let the spectator answer according to his own sensitivity.
Absolutely. It does not seem important to me that all the questions posed by a film have their answer, or that all the biographical elements of a character are explained. There is actually little information that is given on that of Doona Bae, and we do not know where she comes from. But we can understand that there is a subject, something that tenses her when we see her rigid attitude towards the mother, the way she addresses So-young [Ji-eun Lee].
So we can deduce, as you did, that there is probably a knot there. And I believe that the actors themselves had this approach vis-à-vis their respective characters. The one who played the husband of Doona Bae, for example, came to see me during the filming to ask me if, in the end, the couple they formed would not have tried to have a child and gave up. Or if they hadn’t lost one. Or even decided not to have one.
He didn’t know if he had the right intuition, but I told him they could play it that way. And the same seems to happen with the viewer. We don’t have a precise element, but sensations. And we can, like you, try to develop our imagination around the characters.
Interview by Maximilien Pierrette in Paris on November 30, 2022
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The Good Stars: Hirokazu Kore-Eda talks about his very beautiful film shot in Korea