Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
SIFF Cinema Uptown brings a new film by Hirokazu Kore-eda, The Third Murder, for a week-long run. I haven’t seen the new one yet, but if it’s at the level of this Japanese filmmaker’s recent run, it should be seen. It does sound like a departure—a courtroom movie, rather than a close look at family dynamics—but Kore-eda has been so strong in his recent prolific period that it feels like a good bet.
And when we say “prolific,” we mean the guy already has another movie, made since The Third Murder, out in the world. And that one, Shoplifters, merely won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival this year.
In fact, Kore-eda’s output since Maborosi in 1995 (I haven’t seen the documentaries he made before that) represents a remarkably high batting average. The somber Maborosi was followed by the equally death-obsessed After Life (1998), but the latter film invariably makes audiences feel good to be alive, so don’t let the d-word put you off. It’s about a kind of way-station for the newly deceased, where a very specific task is taking place: with the help of the staff, each individual must choose a single memory from his or her life. This memory will be re-created and filmed, and it will be the only thing that can be carried into the afterlife. With this simple but gloriously rich premise, Kore-eda investigates the nature of memory, and the peculiar business of trying to sustain that memory in a new way.
This way-station is no sleek vision of the supernatural, but a very human place. It looks as though it is made of stray memories itself, with its leafy plants, old furniture, and Earl Grey tea. Kore-eda achieves a similar feeling in the performances. While much of the movie was scripted, some of it consists of unstaged interviews with real people, who narrate their happiest memories for the camera. This lack of polish is one of the key sources of the movie’s haunting effect.
The amazing Nobody Knows (2004), about a group of abandoned children in Tokyo, is one of his best films; Still Walking (2008) is also strong. In fact, the only flat spot on Kore-eda’s career comes in the middle; I find Air Doll (2009), which really is about a man and his blow-up doll, and I Wish (2011), to be decidedly less-inspired efforts.
But lately? Don’t miss Our Little Sister, a quiet masterpiece. I’ve got links to my reviews of his recent titles below. You know where to find these on DVD, and you know Scarecrow has a Kore-eda section. See you there.
Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.