“Love Life” Director Koji Fukada Talks About Japanese Film Industry And Family Stories

A gentle portrait of family, love and loneliness, Love life debuted in the main competition of the Venice Film Festival on September 5. Perhaps best known for Harmonium (2016) which won the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard program at the Cannes Film Festival, director Kōji Fukada has directed 12 feature films and Love life will be his first in the main Venice competition. The film stars Fumino Kimura, Kento Nagayama and Atom Sunada.

Inspired by a 1991 song by Akiko Yano that he listened to in his twenties, Fukada wanted to translate some of the song’s themes into a film. “I wanted to present this song,” Fukada says. “It’s been a long time, but I was waiting for the right moment.”

Love life tells the story of Taeko, her husband Jiro and her young son Keita. However, a tragic accident suddenly brings Keita’s long-lost father, Park Shinji, back into his life. Shinji is a deaf Korean citizen living in Japan and he communicates with Taeko using Japanese Sign Language. The film enters the company of other recent works by Japanese filmmakers – such as Hirokazu Kore-eda Broker and Shopliftersas well as that of Kei Ishikawa A man (also in Venice) — who attempted to subvert traditional notions of family. “It’s a feedback of what family is, which these days is not the traditional family you think of,” Fukada says. “Family is a bit more complicated.”

Atom Sunada stars as Taeko’s ex-husband Park Shinji, “When I first heard about the story, I was puzzled because I usually do comedies,” Sunada shares his thoughts when we offered him the role in Love life. While he was initially hesitant to portray a Korean character, discussions with Fukada molded the character into a half-Korean, half-Japanese character. “It would be easier for me to interpret a [bi-racial] national,” Park shares. “Sign language in Korea is different and difficult, but I have Korean friends and we speak in sign language. I was also in Korea and spoke at a conference there, I I was able to play this role.

In some sign language conversations between Taeko and Shinji, Love life does not offer any translation or subtitles for viewers. This puts a hearing audience in the shoes of Jiro. “When they speak in sign language, Jiro doesn’t understand, hence his jealousy,” says Fukada. “People who are in the majority become a minority. I wanted to express this conversion.

Fukada is proud that Love life reached the main competition of the Venice Film Festival. “It’s very important to be able to come to a festival and present the film properly,” says Fukada. “Asian films are not often introduced in Western countries, so it is very important to me that the film was chosen and presented here.”

“I saw the red carpet on TV, but I never thought I could walk on it,” says Sunada. “Now for the first time I was on the red carpet. It was very impressive and I’m very happy.

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