With Mogari No Mori (The Mourning Forest), the Japanese director Naomi Kawase is in Cannes once again, 10 year after her Camera d’Or for Moe No Suzaku, and four years after Shara was presented in Competition. In this new feature film, the young filmmaker focuses on an old man and his relationship with one of the home’s nursing staff. They are both heavily haunted by the loss of someone dear. Bereavement fuels The Mourning Forest: the word Mogari from the original title denotes the period of mourning or the place of mourning.
Director Naomi Kawase talks about the bond between the two main characters: “I think the bond between Shigeki & Machiko is empathy. They share something one cannot control: the time they spent with the departed. But it’s certainly not only a sharing of sadness. In human existence, those who’ve experienced loss often become kinder to others. This only happens, however, if there’s someone who understands them… After the two enter the forest, the forest becomes the force that supports them. It watches over the two of them, sometimes gently, sometimes more strictly.”
Japanese director Naomi Kawase, presenting The Mourning Forest in Competition today, fielded questions from journalists at the traditional press conference. At her side were actors Shigeki Uda, Makiko Watanabe, and Machiko Ono, along with producers Christian Baute and Shunji Dodo. Selected excerpts:
Naomi Kawase on her personal experience: "My personal experience is based on my early childhood. I was raised by people who were far older than I, because my great-aunt is the person who raised me. I was thus two generations younger than she. She's the one who taught me to respect the sun, fire, and food. I was raised in a mystical relationship with nature and everything around me. I was also supposed to respect everything that is transmitted from generation to generation. In a way, this is the fruit of my personal experience, and this is what structured me."
Naomi Kawase on the genesis of the project: "I wanted to make this film because my grandmother was becoming slightly senile, and in today's world, these people are looked down upon somewhat, and pitied. We forget that it could happen to us someday. We also consider these people pitiful, whereas in fact, their soul has remained intact. They still have the soul of a human being, and human feelings, and we forget that feelings are something to be reckoned with. The soul should be returned to the center of human relationships."
On the fact that the film was selected at Cannes:
Shigeki Uda: "It's wonderful to see this film leap from the Japanese scene to the international scene. It was already enough, and wonderful, to have acted in a film that would be seen in Japan. So I am really quite happy and honored to be here."
Naomi Kawase: "I am very proud that this film was selected for the Competition. When I made it, I felt very strong and very sincere. The sincerity is something I passed on to my crew, who was wonderful. I placed a great deal of confidence in this film. I believe in it very much, and I believe in it even more, now that it has been selected. I am very honored that my film was chosen to be among the works that will go down in history as the 60th-anniversary works."
Shigeki Uda on preparing for his role: "I played the senile old man, and I think that every day that I live brings me closer to death. I think of death in a very natural way as being part of life. Right now, I am 60 years old, but in the film, I played a character who was 70. When I was on camera, I didn't forget that I was ten years older. To prepare for the role, I spent three months in a home for the elderly, a home that was used as a model for the film. I spent three months with people who were senile. I ate with them, I bathed with them, I lived with them, and I felt with them."