We belong more to the stories than they do to us, which is why it is difficult to say whether Kawase’s work is pure poetry or simply observing the sacred within the lives of common people.
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[eltdf_dropcaps type=”normal” color=”” background_color=””]W[/eltdf_dropcaps]hen face to face with a film by Naomi Kawase, one feels as though they are observing something beloved, an ode to all the tiny details that make us human. Like a stone carefully polished to reveal the veins of its natural form, this is Kawase’s cinema; beautiful rocks now soft enough to caress the bare skin of the hand that grasps it tightly in hopes of holding onto time. Naomi Kawase was born in the southern city of Nara in 1969. She majored in Visual Arts at the Osaka School of Photography, graduated in 1989 and in 1993 received her first award for a documentary film. She is the founder and executive director at the Nara International Film Festival, which brings together artists from all over the world and collaborates with young filmmakers to strengthen local film production. Building art out of constant personal quests, Kawase delves into the abysses of her past in search of identity; in finding parts of it, she connects with others. She has received international acclaim for autobiographical documentaries like Embracing (1992), in which she searches for the father who abandoned her and reveals how the imprint of that absence has marked her from her first years of life; and for Katatsumori (1994), an honest portrait of her adoptive mother, whom she calls “grandmother.”
By telling her own story before any other, Kawase makes clear that film is personal, making entirely hers the mystery of time and its composition, weaving her stories through the flow of intimacy and meaning. It is precisely her sober yet tender treatment of intimacy that allows her films—portraits of lives that are foreign to our continent—to offer an encounter with uniqueness, like a solemn gift. Her cinema demands a steady gaze so as to immerse oneself in the navigating poetics of a nebulous everyday reality; thus she invites us to contemplate a calm balance within the chaos of a typhoon. These are not lessons; they are windows into her personal imaginary that drift through the universal.
Among a large collection of documentary and narrative features, it is in films like Tarachime (Birth/Mother, 2006), in which she explores her own pregnancy and her grandmother’s final days, where Kawase inspires a journey through the senses, beyond the surfaces of circumstances. In Futatsume No Mado (Still the Water, 2014), the sea is death and origin, which, along with the age of the trees and the strength of the typhoon, reflect on the complexity of these human characters, synthesizing an otherness that envelopes us and resurges as a personal awakening. Kawase’s point of view takes and gives back, creating a living tale, it celebrates existence and all of life that filters inward through gestures. The mysteries explained by ancient wisdom recur in the quotidian, through the voice of the elder characters of life, there for whoever listens with modesty and without fear to the higher forces of nature. A favorite at the Cannes Film Festival, with her first film Moe No Suzaku (Suzaku, 1997), Naomi Kawase became the youngest filmmaker to receive the Camera d’Or. Other films of hers that have been selected at Cannes include Sharasojyu (Shara, 2003); Mogari No Mori (The Mourning Forrest, 2007), for which she won the Grand Prix; Hanezu No Tsuki (The Spirit of Mountains, 2011); and Futatsume No Mado (Still the Water, 2014). Her most recent film, An (Sweet Bean, 2015) was selected as the opening film at Un Certain Regard. Among other accolades, she received the Carrosse d’Or in 2009 and was invited to Cannes as a jury in 2013. In 2015, she received the title of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French Ministry of Culture. In its 69th edition, the Cannes Film Festival elected Naomi Kawase to be the President of Cinéfondation and the Short Film Jury, entrusting her with the discover of talented young filmmakers. At the 2012 TEDxTokyo conference, Kawase spoke of the miracle of cinema in parallel with existential questions in the tone of Why am I here?. With her sweet style of asking questions and her camera as a reflection of her brave exploration time, her films make that “miracle” evident: her shots look directly into one’s eyes and build bridges across borders.
Kawase’s cinema connects people and with every image she repeats her grandmother’s words: The world is beautiful.