Found in Translation: Hirokazu Kore-eda Explores The Truth

Oscar nominee on adapting his Japanese script for France

Director Hirokazu Kore-eda on the set of The Truth (Image Courtesy of IFC Films)

Every journalist has had an awkward interview. One that just didn't gel, or the interviewee was cantankerous, or the questions were idiotic. That’s exactly what Hirokazu Kore-eda presents in the opening of his latest film, The Truth, as an actress blows off a series of asinine questions during a press junket.

Yet the scene doesn’t come from his own experiences promoting films like his Oscar-nominated Shoplifters on the publicity circuit. He recalled via translator, "I was recreating my foolish questions when I first interviewed her" – her being Catherine Deneuve. "It was a conversation that took place between me and her before she had actually made a final decision about being involved in my film." Their chat devolved into the nightmare fodder that keeps journalists up at night. "She basically ignored all my questions and talked about which restaurants she liked and didn't like," Kore-eda said. "But as I was leaving she said, 'I have a feeling that I could work with you,' so I guess she was testing me."

After all, this isn't just any actress. In The Truth, Deneuve plays Fabienne Dangeville, a legendary French talent (much of the same caliber and celebrity status as Deneuve herself) who is on the verge of publishing her memoir. At the same time her daughter, Lumir (Juliette Binoche) and son-in-law Hank (Ethan Hawke as a charmingly doltish American TV actor), are visiting – a rarity for Dangeville, a grand dame of French cinema who rarely has time for family.

The Truth has evaded Kore-eda for the dozen years since he first drafted it. Originally, he wrote it as a stage play, but the casting of the Fabienne character flummoxed him. “I couldn't think of a suitable Japanese actress who had single-handedly carried Japanese acting's legacy. But while I was talking with Juliette I suddenly remembered this script that I had put to rest for a while, and I thought, 'If we put it in France, Catherine Deneuve could totally pull it off.'"

There was a strange synchronicity, drawing the Japanese filmmaker to direct his first European project. “From the beginning, my films have been really well received in France, and from the beginning Juliette Binoche has been interested in working with me, and the distributor was really interested in working with me, so I guess I took their flattery seriously.” At the same time, he still needed an actress who brings the kind of gravitas that Deneuve carries – and that really meant Deneuve. "It couldn't have happened if she said no, so the minute she said yes I knew the film would be made."

Shifting from Japan to France meant redesigning his methods of filmmaking, starting with his approach to running a set. French productions have strict union rules – eight hour days, four hours for the child actors, and no weekends. “Initially, that was quite stressful to me to get myself accustomed to the idea that we to end the day, when in Japan we would have just kept going.”

As for the script, that still needed profound revisions. If the concept of a grand dame seemed more suited for a French version of his script, that still didn’t mean a word-by-word translation would suffice. Kore-eda worked with the French cast and crew to absorb cultural differences that would affect relationships, especially in the simmering bickering between Fabienne and Lumir. “A Japanese mother and daughter would never confront each other with words and with their emotions in that way,” he said. “They tend to ignore or pretend they didn't hear, so they play down the conflicts a lot.”

However, the process of the international exchange gave him one new, key moment – that interview. "It was extremely awkward for me, and I literally just dropped that in as the opening scene."

The Truth is available on VOD now. Read our full review here.

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The Truth, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke

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