Japanese director explores the meaning of family

The curtain has fallen on the 75th Cannes Film Festival in France, and beyond the prizes and glamorous parties lie works of art that challenge us to view the world differently. Among them is Broker, from Japanese director Koreeda Hirokazu.

Back in Cannes last month, four years after winning the Palme d'Or with Shoplifters, Koreeda spoke with NHK World about the themes in his latest work.

Broker is the director's first South Korean production. Its lead actor is Song Kang-ho, the star of Parasite, which won the Palme d'Or in 2019 and became the first non-English film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture the following year.

Broker's plot revolves around a so-called "baby box," a safe hatch where mothers unable to raise newborns can leave them anonymously. The drama follows detectives on the trail of some baby brokers who trade unwanted infants on the black market.

"I wanted to explore what constitutes a family, and whether it is something that can be established without blood ties," says Koreeda.

"At the start of the film, one of the detectives mutters, 'Don't have a baby if you're going to abandon it,'" he notes. "Before seeing the movie, most people would probably share that view. I think my challenge this time was to see how far I could go in shattering that way of thinking in just the two hours a film lasts," says Koreeda.

Director Koreeda in Cannes
NHK World interviewed film director Koreeda Hirokazu at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Song Kang-ho won the Best Actor Award in Cannes for his performance, making history as the first Korean man to receive the accolade. He says Koreeda's message struck a chord.

"I think the movie depicts our current reality in a very dry, objective way, but this allows the audience to actually feel the warmth of humanity."

Broker is the second film Koreeda has made outside Japan. His 2019 movie The Truth was shot on location in France with two of the country's most renowned actresses, Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche. The director's overseas experiences appear to be shaping his artistic vision.

"When I'm working with actors in Korea, I don't understand the meaning of the lines. So I have to put that aside and get information from elements other than the dialogue, which requires more concentration than just understanding the words. I felt that as a director, I could read beyond the lines," Koreeda explains.

Actor Song Kang-ho and Koreeda at the film festival
Korean actor Song Kang-ho won the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance in Broker.

Song admires the director's willingness to work outside his comfort zone. "Koreeda has impressed me with the way he's constantly exploring and pushing himself. Japan and Korea are culturally very close, and yet different in other ways. That is what I found so interesting about being in the film," says the actor.

Through his work, Koreeda wants to promote more exchanges between the two countries' film industries.

"I was talking with Park Chan-wook (Korean director, winner of this year's Best Director Award at Cannes) about how it would be great if the Japanese and Korean crews and casts could interact with each other, as there would be much to learn and new things would come out of it."