‘Love Life’ director Koji Fukada talks about Japanese film industry and family stories

A gently treated 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 Award in the Un Certain Regard program of the Cannes Film Festival, director Kōji Fukada made 12 feature films and love life will be his first in the main competition of Venice. The film stars Fumino Kimura, Kento Nagayama and Atom Sunada.

Inspired by a 1991 Akiko Yano song that he listened to in his twenties, Fukada wanted to translate some of the song’s themes into a movie. “I wanted to introduce this song,” says Fukada. “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 son Keita. However, a tragic accident suddenly brings Keita’s long-lost father, Park Shinji, back into her life. Shinji is a deaf Korean citizen living in Japan and he communicates with Taeko in Japanese Sign Language. The film joins other recent work by Japanese filmmakers, such as Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Estate agent and shopliftersas well as Kei Ishikawa’s A man (also in Venice) – who have tried to undermine traditional notions of family. “It’s a feedback of what the family is, which is not the traditional family you think of these days,” says Fukada. “Family is a bit more complicated.”

Atom Sunada plays Taeko’s ex-husband, Park Shinji. love life. Although he was initially hesitant to portray a Korean character, conversations with Fukada molded the character into someone who was half Korean and half Japanese. “It would be easier for me to [bi-racial] national,” Park said. “Sign language in Korea is different and difficult, but I have Korean friends and we talk in sign language. I have also been to Korea and spoke at a conference there, so I was able to fill this role.”

In a few sign language conversations between Taeko and Shinji, love life does not provide translation or subtitles for viewers. This puts a hearing audience in Jiro’s shoes. “When they speak in sign language, Jiro doesn’t understand, and that’s where his jealousy comes from,” explains Fukada. “The people who are in the majority become the minority. I wanted to express this conversion.”

Fukada is proud of 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 well,” 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’ve seen the red carpet on television, but I never thought I could walk on it,” says Sunada. “Now I stood on the red carpet for the first time. It was very impressive and I am very happy.”