Preview – Naomi Kawase: In Focus at the Open City Documentary Festival 2019

Naomi Kawase is one of two ‘In Focus’ directors at the Open City Documentary Festival 2019. She will be present at the London-based festival where she will take part in screenings of her works by introducing them as well as participating in a Q&A and an extended talk on September 8th and 9th.

The festival strand “Naomi Kawase: In Focus” has been put together with the help of the Japan Foundation to give audiences a rare chance to see Kawase’s early films, personal documentaries recorded in Super 8 and 16mm that dealt with the complex well of emotions stemming from her abandonment by her parents. These emotions manifest themselves in a string of experimental works where she maps out a search for her identity by looking for her father and recording snippets of life with her adoptive mother, her great aunt Uno Kawase. They form subjects for Kawase’s explorations of themes such as family ties and inter-generational relationships, themes that would resurface in her more famous fiction work. 

Naomi Kawase is a native of Nara and made history with her first fiction feature Suzaku (1997) with which she became the youngest filmmaker to receive the Caméra d’Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival before going on to win the festival’s Grand Prix prize ten years later with the Nara-set The Mourning Forest (2007). Since then, she has made other critically acclaimed works such as Sweet Bean (2015) and Radiance (2017) and went on to found the Nara International Film Festival.

With the Open City Documentary Festival, audiences will have the rare opportunity to see some of the early films that helped make Naomi Kawase a major presence in world cinema. Here are the details from the festival itself:

Embracing + Sky, Wind, Fire, Water, Earth + Q&A

In these two deeply personal films, Naomi Kawase reflects on her relationship with her father, absent throughout her childhood. Embracing (1992) revolves around Naomi’s search for her father despite her adoptive mother’s discouragement and her own doubts about what she might find. Combining nostalgic home movies and handheld Super 8mm footage of nature, Kawase weaves together an achingly beautiful search for identity and the true meaning of family. Sky, Wind, Fire, Water, Earth (2001) chronicles Naomi’s reaction to her father’s death a decade later, drawing lifelong connections between her original search, her childhood with her adoptive parents and her unfulfilled longing for a relationship with her birth parents.

Followed by a Q&A with director Naomi Kawase.

Screening on:

Sunday September 8th, 1:30pm at Regent Street Cinema. Tickets here.

Katatsumori + See Heaven + Chiri + Intro

This triptych of moving tributes from Naomi Kawase creates an affectionate portrait of her bond with her great-aunt who adopted and raised her. Capturing her lovingly with close up Super 8mm photography, Katatsumori (1994) introduces us to Uno Kawase as she enters her eighties. A recurrent figure in all of Kawase’s personal documentaries, Uno remains kind, good-humoured and devoted to her adoptive daughter, and See Heaven (1995) offers an intimate, experimental collage of images dedicated to the playful but tender relationship between the two. In Chiri (2012), we witness Uno’s daily routine as she nears her final days and Kawase grapples with coming to terms with her great-aunt’s passing.

Director Naomi Kawase will be present to introduce the screening.

Screening on:

Sunday September 8th, 4:00pm at Regent Street Cinema. Tickets here.

Birth/Mother + Extended Conversation

About to give birth to her own child, Naomi Kawase turns her camera back on to her adoptive mother and great-aunt in this riveting examination of family, motherhood and the female body. An intensely intimate and candid film, Birth/Mother (2006) captures images of her great-aunt’s ageing body while Kawase reflects on her own journey to becoming a mother. The film offers a more complex portrayal of the relationship between the two women than Kawase’s earlier shorts, but the connection between them remains undeniable.

Naomi Kawase will be present after the screening for an extended in-conversation event.

Screening on:

Monday September 9th, 6:30pm at Curzon Soho. Tickets here.