Ties That Bind


Kore-eda Honors the Many Sides of His Mother in’Still Walking’

Esteemed Japanese writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda is noted for the depth and richness of his family dramas such as “Nobody Knows,” “After Life” and “Maborosi.” His films make regular stops on the major international film festival circuit. During the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, Kore-eda met with The Washington Diplomat to talk about his latest family saga, “Still Walking,” which details 24 hours in the life of a dysfunctional extended family during their annual reunion to honor the accidental death of the oldest son more than a decade ago (also see review in the September 2009 issue of The Washington Diplomat).

“I wrote this script after my mother’s death,” the director recalled. “About two years prior to her death, she was hospitalized because of a brain aneurysm. Up until that point, I used my work as an excuse, but I really left her alone and didn’t take care of my mother. Just like the main character in the film, I always thought I could always go home; I can always be with her — but you never really do. It’s a common occurrence with children. Or maybe you just go home for New Year’s, for one day. That’s about the level of relationship you might have with your parents.”

He continued, “When she was ill and I would go and visit her in the hospital for two years, I would take notes on the conversations I had with her. For example, even though she was the one who was hospitalized, I’d walk in — and she would be lying in her bed — and she’d ask me about my cavities and be worried about me. These notes I took were the starting point for the script.”

The ever-present longing for parental acceptance permeates the storyline of “Still Walking,” as disappointment and resentment color many of the relationships among the different generations.

“It was very important for me to portray the parts of the mother’s character that from the son’s perspective might be very difficult to understand: the darker parts and, of course, the parts where she’s cold to others,” Kore-eda explained. “But it wasn’t just about creating a well-rounded, three-dimensional character. I think the thing that must be avoided by a son after his mother dies is to make a movie that’s an homage to her, that shows only her good parts. You end up with a sad and kind film. I think that’s a thing that must be avoided. I really wanted to be faithful with all parts of my mother’s character and treat them with equal deference,” he said.

“For me, what I felt is when daughters marry and become mothers themselves, their relationship with their own mother becomes that of two mothers,” Kore-eda added of the family dynamic he wanted to portray. “In a way, they become equals, and I think they actually become closer as it becomes two mothers instead of just mother and daughter. That’s what happened between my sister and my mother. But between sons and fathers, I don’t think that’s what really happens, and they always in a way remain rivals. And that’s always the person that you always want to look the best in front of despite everything else. That’s a separation that’s never really overcome between sons and fathers. That’s the kind of parent-child relationship I wanted to show in my film.”

About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.