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"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Roger's Favorites: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Each day during this special week we will be highlighting the filmmakers and actors that Roger championed throughout his career. A table of contents for all of our "Roger's Favorites" posts can be found here. Below is an entry on writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda.

Roger adored the delicate cinema of Hirokazu Kore-eda, where ruminations on family, death and childhood lived quietly through a realist's perspective, all with a miraculous lack of over-sentimentality. For these aspects and others, Kore-eda became like a sequel to one of Roger's favorite directors, Yasujiro Ozu ("Tokyo Story," "Floating Weeds"), one of many great filmmakers Roger associated with Kore-eda. Like Sofia Coppola, even with fantasy films Kore-eda's vision spoke to the human element that Roger craved from movies perhaps most of all, and the two directors share the distinction of having a nearly perfect review average from the critic. Also a favorite of the Cannes Film Festival, Kore-eda continues to direct films, including "Like Father, Like Son," as reviewed by Glenn Kenny in 2014. 

On March 21, 1997, Roger gave four stars to Kore-eda's directorial debut "Maborosi," which he introduced as "a Japanese film of astonishing beauty and sadness." While Kore-eda's vision for this story about a woman's trauma was assuredly original, Roger was particularly excited about the obvious influence from Yasujiro Ozu, a filmmaker that Roger called "one of the four or five greatest film directors of all time." Roger praised Kore-eda's film often in context of Ozu, like when he talks about the similar beauty to its simple camera work: "the camera does not move, but regards." Later he adds, with Kore-eda having established a beauty all his own, "There isn't a shot in the movie that isn't graceful or pleasing." Roger named "Maborosi" one of 1997's absolute best films.  

Kore-eda's followup to "Maborosi" blew Roger away in a similar fashion, this time working with an imaginative story about movies being made from memories, but as told by Kore-eda with pragmatic filmmaking. "After Life" earned a second four-star review from Roger in a review published on August 6, 1999. The film struck Roger with how it inspired thoughtfulness—even ending with him considering aloud what single memory he'd want to live with forever—while eschewing "angelic flimflam." Adding onto the previous Ozu reference, Roger wrote that "After Life" earned Kore-eda "the right to be considered with Kurosawa, Bergman and other great humanists of the cinema." 

Though Kore-eda's 2005 film "Nobody Knows" received still-fantastic but career-low three-and-a-half stars from Roger, the critic was still a huge fan of Kore-eda, calling him "the most gifted of the young Japanese directors" in a review published on February 17, 2005. For Kore-eda's next film released stateside, "Still Walking," Roger awarded the filmmaker with another four-star review (published on August 26, 2009), in awe of how Kore-eda navigated family drama with such truth. Roger wrote: "Painful family issues are more likely to stay beneath the surface, known to everyone but not spoken of. 'Still Walking,' a magnificent new film from Japan, is very wise about that, and very true." Towards the end of his review, he returns to Ozu comparisons, stating that Kore-eda could be considered an heir to Ozu's cinema. When writing about Kore-eda's first three films released stateside, Roger also stated: "[Kore-eda] has produced profoundly empathetic films about human feelings ... he sees intensely and tenderly into his characters." 

The final film of Kore-eda's that Roger reviewed was "I Wish," another piece of writing that found the critic diving deep into the details of Kore-eda's directorial choices, even though plot is not a machine that Kore-eda really obeyed. This three-and-a-half star review, published on May 30, 2012, doesn't feature any comparisons to the cinematic greats, as if Roger knew such a statement would be redundant. But it is another non-four-star review that lacks any direct criticism from Roger, the same going for his take on "Nobody Walks." Fittingly, these wavering high ratings reveal a very human feature—that some honest expressions simply excite us more than others. 

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