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  • Writer's pictureKerry Chambers

Recommends: Top 10 Hirokazu Koreeda Films

Hirokazu Koreeda is the master of the modern socially-conscious, family drama who chooses to explore the various dynamics in the familial unit in all its forms. Often hailed as the next Yasujiro Ozu, and although understandable, Koreeda really works under different circumstances. Starting in documentary, the details matter most to the director, finding beauty in a quiet moment with a half-empty bowl of rice, a sparkler flaring at twilight, the toes of a child as they draw a picture. All these things tie together in search of the intimacy of everyday life. Its what makes his films so powerful and watchable. Here I've assembled my favourite Koreeda films.

Still Walking (2008)

Starting off this list is a film with so much promise but loses its way somewhere around the mid-way point. Starring one of my favourite actors, Koji Yakusho, it follows the story of an attorney investigating the case of his clients who has admitted to the crime of murder-robbery, facing the death penalty due to having served time before. As he looks more into the case, it begins to appear that he may not have been behind it after all. The premise is great, the cinematography is great and the performances are great yet none of it ties together confidently. It’s a genre that Koreeda lacks confidence in, struggling to string a strong story together. But it’s always worth watching, and to see the director whose been behind so many socially conscious classics try another genre is always interesting.

The Third Murder (2017)

9. Air Doll (2009)

Based upon a manga series, this film follows the life of a blow-up sex doll that comes to life. When her owner isn’t home, she explores the neighbourhood and even manages to get a job in a DVD shop and eventually fall in love. I had reservations about this one too, another Koreeda that goes pretty out there and of the realm he usually works in. It was also a very popular DVD purchase for customers during my time at HMV, which if you know anything about retail and the town I’m from, was not because they were seeking culture (other favourite’s included the Tinto Brass collection, Room in Rome and Sex and Lucia). Yet the film is more than its gimmick – it’s an adult retelling of Pinocchio, with funny and gentle moments. Ultimately, things come undone in an unsettling turn of events and it was this that made the film grow on me more; its dark and its tragic. I kind of loved its strangeness.

Air Doll (2009)

8. Maborosi (1995)

His first scripted film following a career in documentaries, Maborosi follows a woman, who is troubled by nightmares of the death of her grandmother, despite the seemingly happy life she leads with her husband and infant. However, tragedy strikes and it is a widower who must help her out of the dark place she goes to. An amazing start to a narrative film career, Koreeda tells this haunting tale with as much heart and care as he would with later works. Dabbling in magical realism and psychological drama, his own sense of style and signature cinematography is potent even in such an early work. Despite all this, Maborosi is a darker, more morbid tale with a bleak location and heavy themes. The vast open sea and the fishing village, the streets filled with vendors, the dark rooms of the house and the narrow streets of the town all build an oppressive little world that must open itself to the world; it's about finding the light in the darkness.

Maborosi (1995)

7. After the Storm (2016)

Another great cast with Hiroshi Abe, Kirin Kiki (Koreeda regular whose last film was the Shoplifters before her death) and a minor role from Lily Franky. The story follows a a private detective estranged from his family, who tries to weave his way back into their lives. Abe is wonderful as the hopeless lead and he works off well with Kiki as his doting mother. It’s a very Koreeda story with lots of heart that captures the little moments; a struggling father, a bad husband and a sorry excuse for a son there is something still so very relatable and likable about Abe in this. It’s a slow burner, slower than a lot of Koreeda’s films usually are but its conclusion if well worth the wait, with those iconic moving scenes the director does so well.

After the Storm (2016)

6. I Wish (2011)

Two brothers are separated during their parents’ divorce; they attempt to reunite their family again through some complicated scheming. A heartbreaking premise from the get go, Koreeda handles the tale of two brothers and family is once again flawless. One of his gifts is working with children, drawing real and emotive performances from them and this can be seen from the casting of real-life brothers as his leads. Sometimes I wonder that my choice in watching this filmmakers work is to drive myself into some depressive spiral, telling such heartbreaking stories capturing the harsh realities of the adult world through a child’s eyes.

I Wish (2011)

5. Shoplifters (2018)

This film. There was a lot of hype for a reason. An old woman (Kirin Kiki at her most lovable) who still collects money from her long-dead husband’s pension, a shoplifter (Lily Franky at his best) and the boy he teaches to help him, a woman who works in a laundress stealing whatever she finds in the pockets and a young woman who works in a sleazy hostess club. A band of thieves, a dysfunctional family on the edges of society, all avoiding their pasts, hiding from something. One night they find a young, bruised girl and take her in for the night. An act of kindness from those deemed criminal, a found family unit with more honesty and love than that of the homes they came from. Their story is powerful and tragic and one of Koreeda’s strongest social commentaries and the forgotten people. This is a story not only for Japan but for the first world countries that sweep these they deem unworthy aside.

Shoplifters (2018)

In one of Koreeda’s most heart-rending family dramas, Abe and Kiki return. This time, the story follows a son returning home with his new wife for a family reunion. All the while he is under the assumption that deep down his parents always wished that he had died in the place of his older brother they lost years before in an accident. Resentment and deep-rooted family secrets boil in this tale and Koreeda milks it for all its worth. In rooms full of people, busying themselves over food and distant memories never has a cast seemed so lonely, so distant – the air palpable and heaving with unsaid words in the dry summer air. Those minute details, the familiarity of family despite all this the film is bursting at the seams with lush imagery and moving moments. It possibly has one of my favourite endings to a Koreeda film also.

Still Walking (2008)

3. Nobody Knows (2004)

Koreedas’s mastery with child actors is at its most successful in this heart aching story about siblings who are abandoned by their selfish mother and left to fend for themselves in a dingy flat. A simple premise but not a minute is wasted in its long runtime filled with sweet and funny moments in equal measures to its tragic, Nobody Knows is often considered Koreeda’s crowning achievement and watching it one can understand why. Based on actual events that occurred in Japan, the scenario is also not so unfamiliar in the West with many forgotten children on the fringes of society even to this day. The relationship amongst the siblings, the moving images of the eldest children taking on the parental roles, the happy moments they want give their younger siblings, it’s a film you will never be able to forget if only for the injustice of it all.

Nobody Knows (2004)

The most wholesome Koreeda film ever made. A group of sisters following the death of the father, who abandoned them, take in their half-sister who was a product of the affair he had with another woman. Shy and reserved, they try to bring her out of her shell and show her that she is loved in a world that sees her as something born of an immoral union. It’s simply beautiful this film, the cast is excellent with the sisters dynamics and relationships honest and touching. Kirin Kiki returns as their lovely grandmother, looking out for all of them. It’s simply the sweetest film one could ever see made all the better with the best soundtrack in Koreeda film by the amazing Yoko Kanno, reminiscent of Ravel or Rachmaninov. Full of swelling emotion, Kanno’s score carries Koreeda’s film from sentimental to sincere, without taking away from the powerful story of sisters sticking together.

Our Little Sister (2015)

My number one, another tragic tale. Exploring the morality and ethics a well-off couple must face when they discover the child they loved and raised for years belongs to someone else, a working-class family, swapped at birth they must make the hard decision of returning them to their true parents whilst raising a stranger. The families make the transition whilst struggling to come to terms with the realities and one another’s backgrounds that differ so greatly. What a scenario. The great Lily Franky and Masaharu Fukuyama play the troubled fathers who must exchange their children with great sensitivity and understanding of their characters. The scenario is unbearable yet not unheard of made all the more tragic by the performances of the children who don’t seem to get a say in what happens. It’s a film that will stick with you long after, haunting your thoughts as you wonder what would you do?

Like Father, Like Son (2013)

There they are, my top ten Hirokazu Koreeda films. I hope you liked this list and find a new favourite film. What's your favourite and why? I would love to hear from you.



After the Storm. (2016). Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. [DVD]. UK: Arrow Academy

Air Doll. (2009). Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. [DVD]. UK: Matchbox Films

I Wish. (2011). Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. [DVD]. UK: Arrow Academy

Like Father, Liked Son. (2013). Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. [DVD]. UK: Arrow Academy.

Maborosi. (1995). Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. [DVD]. UK: BFI

Nobody Knows. (2004). Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. [DVD]. UK: ICA Projects

Our Little Sister (2015). Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. [DVD]. UK: Artificial Eye

Shoplifters. (2018). Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. [DVD]. UK: Thunderbird Releasing.

Still Walking. (2008). Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. [DVD]. UK: New Wave

The Third Murder. (2017). Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. [DVD]. UK: Arrow Academy

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Danny Peck
Danny Peck
Oct 04, 2020

Firstly great writing. I mostly agree with the list but I would have put I Wish higher and Shop Lifters lower. I feel Shop Lifters retreads themes already raised in Nobody Knows but with less likeable characters. Looking forward to reading more of writing.

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