Kokoro Expresses the Heart of Healing

2017/10/13 Report

Belgian director Vanja d’Alcantara brought her Belgian-French-Japanese coproduction Kokoro to KIFF for a screening on Friday October 13 at Toho Cinemas Nijo. The audience was deeply moved by the story set mainly on the small island of Oki off the coast of Shimane prefecture in Japan.

The narrative revolves around Alice (Isabelle Carré), a woman living detached from her feelings in France. When her brother Nathan returns from Japan he tells her of how he has found life and love there. They have a nice reunion but eventually get in a fight from which he storms off. Tragically he’s then killed in a motorcycle accident, leaving Alice broken and lost. She decides to go to Japan to find out what Nathan discovered and it leads her to an isolated island with cliffs where people commit suicide. At that desolate place she meets Daisuke (Jun Kunimura), an ex-cop who saves people from death and gives them a temporary home. Slowly Alice can reconnect with her heart.

The film was adapted from a French novel about a real person, Yukio Shige, who watches over cliffs in Fukui prefecture. D’Alcantara explained the process of creating the screenplay and film. “The challenge when you start working on an existing piece is that… you are making a book into a film. But that’s wrong. It's a person who being moved by what she reads. It moved something inside me that I have to tell and that has to become my own story. I think that’s the whole difficulty of the process that you have to find out what it is that it triggered. It’s an outside piece that came and created an echo. And you have to find a way to express the story that’s inside myself.”

The writer-director noted the setting of the remote isle of Oki was key the piece. “After the screenplay was written and there was something there that was really mine it was a whole process to find the balance between the intimacy of the characters and the environment. That what I try to do in one film to another, to find a very deep emotion and go very close to the character, in a very special environment, in a very unique environment. And the environment has an influence on the characters.”

Renowned Japanese actor Jun Kunimura, who has worked with directors Ridley Scott and Quentin Tarantino, portrayed the character of Daisuke, the ex-cop spending every second of his time watching over cliffs known for suicides. Kunimura explained his attraction to the part. “The idea of a life and death in the film is interesting. The character of Daisuke doesn’t directly say “Don’t commit suicide” instead he gives the people some space to consider or live. He doesn’t tell them what to do. Daisuke first meets Alice’s brother and then comes to know Alice. He was usually dealing with Japanese but now he talks to a non-Japanese. Their culture, values or heritage may be different but they can share on a heart level.”

D’Alcantara admitted such as cross-cultural effort was risky but exhilarating. “It was a wonderful process to work with Isabelle Carré, the French actress, and Kunimura-san, and find how those peculiar characters could actually connect. And that’s the magic of making films, you bring people together, in this case a French actress, a Japanese actor, on a set on an island in Oki, and to see is it going to work or not?”

It works. The wonderful story, setting, cast and direction allows us see the stages Alice goes through to find her heart and regain balance in her life.

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