Naomi Kawase

Intro Japanese filmmaker
Is Film director Screenwriter Film editor Film producer Cinematographer Actor
From Japan
Type Film, Television, Stage and Radio
Gender female
Birth 30 May 1969, Nara, Japan
Star sign Gemini

Naomi Kawase (河瀨直美, Kawase Naomi, born May 30, 1969) is a Japanese film director. She was also known as Naomi Sento (仙頭直美, Sentō Naomi), with her then-husband's surname. Many of her works have been documentaries, including Embracing, about her search for the father who abandoned her as a child, and Katatsumori, about the grandmother who raised her.

Early life

Growing up in the rural region of Nara, Kawase's parents split early on in her childhood leaving her to be raised by her great-aunt, with whom she held a combative, yet loving, relationship. The youth she spent in Nara has had a drastic effect on her career. Many of her first forays into filmmaking were autobiographical, inspired heavily by the rural landscape. She originally attended the Osaka School of Photography to study television production and later became interested in film, deciding to switch her focus.


After graduating in 1989 from the Osaka School of Photography (Ōsaka Shashin Senmon Gakkō) (now Visual Arts College Osaka), where she was a student of Shunji Dodo, she spent an additional four years there as a lecturer before releasing Embracing. Employing her interest in autobiography, most of her first short films focus on her turbulent family history, including her abandonment and her father's death. She became the youngest winner of the la Caméra d'Or award (best new director) at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival for her first 35mm film, Suzaku. She novelized her films Suzaku and Firefly. In 2006, she released the forty-minute documentary Tarachime, which she prefers to be screened before her film from the following year. Tarachime revisits Kawase's relationship with her great-aunt, tackling very personal themes such as her aunt's growing dementia. Kawase at the Tokyo International Film Festival 2010 Kawase completed production on her fourth full-length film The Mourning Forest (Mogari no Mori), which premièred in June 2007 in her hometown Nara and went on to win the Grand Prix at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. Her 2011 film Hanezu premiered In Competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Pop star Utada Hikaru asked Kawase to create the music video for her 2012 single "Sakura Nagashi" (桜流し, lit. "Flowing Cherry Blossoms/Cherry Blossoms Sinking"), later to be included on Utada's 2016 album Fantôme. In 2013 Kawase was selected as a member of the main competition jury at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Her 2014 film Still the Water was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or in the main competition section at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Her 2015 film Sweet Bean was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. In April 2016 she was announced as the President of the Jury for the Cinéfondation and short films section of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. On October 23, 2018, it was announced that Kawase had been selected by the IOC to shoot the official film for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Styles and themes

Kawase's work is heavily concerned with the distorted space between fiction and non-fiction that has occurred within the state of modern Japanese society, approaching "fiction with a documentarian's gaze." She employs this documentary-realism to focus on individuals of lesser cultural status, challenging prevailing representations of women within the male-dominated Japanese film industry. This theme is also connected to her own personal reflections on contemporary issues in the current climate of economic depression such as the declining birthrate, alienation, and the collapse of traditional family structures. She frequently shoots on location with amateur actors. Kawase's style also invokes the autobiographical practices related to documentary style. Familiar and personal objects such as childhood photographs, and to explore her family history and identity. Her work reflects the personal, intimate, and domestic. Themes that are often associated with feminist practices and Women’s Cinema. However, Kawase herself does not classify as a feminist due to Japanese feminism’s tendency to persist collective identity and view women’s problems through a narrow ideological lens. Instead, she looks at gender as a creative and fluid realm, rather than as a negative fixation. In an interview Kawase explains: It is extremely difficult for us to observe our own life, as it involves looking into the embarrassing or undesirable aspects of ourselves. In a way, being a woman made it easier for me to look closely at my own environment. Women tend to be more intuitive and rely more on their senses, or it might be due to gender status differences in Japan … Not being in the mainstream or the center, she can make new discoveries. In my case, I will create things from the sources within myself. I believe that at the depth of the personal there is something universal. [Sento 1999: 47] Kawase’s films lack political commitment towards social change, but her works nonetheless challenge cinematic conventions. Instead she chooses to focus on herself through self-expression and self-determination. Her subjects are primarily family and friends, and she frequently depicts the relationships between the filmmaker and the subject, and is self-reflexive of her own thoughts and emotions in her works. Through an idiosyncratic gaze, she paints an authentic and intimate social reality that is strongly feminine in terms of aesthetics and perspective.


This is a list of some of her awards: 1997: Camera D'Or, Cannes International Film Festival: Suzaku 1999: Special Mention Prize, Vision du Reel: The Weald 2000: FIPRESCI Prize: Hotaru 2000: CICAE Prize: Hotaru 2000: Best Achievement Award in Cinematography and Directing, Buenos Aires International Film Festival: Hotaru 2007: Special Prize, Yamagata International Film Festival: Tarachime 2007: Grand Prix, Cannes International Film Festival: The Mourning Forest 2015: Chevalier Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France 2017: Ecumenical Jury Prize, Cannes International Film Festival: Radiance

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