Family in its many different and unconventional forms often plays an important role in the films of Hirokazu Kore-eda. Shoplifters (2018) follows a group of drifters who come together and live as a unit, sticking together even through dark twists and turns. In 2011’s I Wish, the acclaimed writer and director tells the story of two families torn apart by divorce. Now, in his latest movie Broker, he takes up with another unorthodox group to explore ideas of motherhood, survival and new life.
In the film, two ‘brokers’ steal orphans from ‘baby boxes’ – a system of hatches in South Korea where struggling parents can deposit infants they don’t have the means to raise. They then sell the orphans to affluent couples who can’t have children of their own. When an orphan’s mother returns suddenly to make sure her baby is cared for, the three form an unlikely family and set out to find the child a perfect new home.
“The focuses are different in each of those films, but the family unit, and the shape of the family has been used as a container almost because it is so multi-dimensional and there is an element of collaboration – a lot of characters interacting with each other,” Hirokazu tells NME. “In Broker, you could interpret what’s happening within the car journey as a proxy family, but I think it’s more about how each character will deal with a life that is being born from different perspectives.”
Read on for the Palme D’or-winning filmmaker on Broker’s star-studded cast, how he hopes the film will challenge viewers and the future of Japanese cinema.
You’ve been talking about working with Parasite’s Song Kang-ho for nearly 10 years. Why was Broker the right film to do with him?
Hirokazu Kore-eda: “The first thing that I thought of when I thought about this film was Song Kang-ho in the priest costume, opening the baby box, holding the baby and in that smile of his, talking to the baby saying, ‘oh, we’ll be happy, don’t worry’. But the next day he would go on to sell the baby. That was what I had in my mind. That sense of what Song Kang-ho possesses – the duality of both good and evil at the same time – that’s what I saw in my head.”
You also worked with Lee Ji-eun on Broker, who you first saw in the Netflix series My Mister. What was it about her performance in that series that drew you to her?
“Her voice [Ji-eun is known in the music world under her stage name IU]. It’s the same for Bae Doona as well, but both of their acting is very, very nuanced and subtle compared to other Korean actors. I watch Korean dramas and a lot of them are very interesting and entertaining. But the storylines tend to be very, very dramatic as well as the acting tends to be quite big and expressive, whereas their expressions are a lot more subtle and internalised – you really need to pay close attention to what is happening in a very small amount. So Lee Ji-eun’s acting was very mature and that subtle movement of emotions was very, very impressive.”
How do you think Broker will challenge viewers’ perspectives on motherhood?
“What I envisioned was that this film would start with Soo-jin saying: ‘Don’t give birth to something if you’re just going to abandon it.’ I believe that view represents what most of the audience would have, whether it be Japan or Korea. But I wanted it to really change in the course of two hours of the film. The film is really about how Soo-jin starts being critical of the mother abandoning the baby, but also the birth mother who needed to give up the babies. I wanted those two women to come closer together [throughout the film]. At the end, both mothers think about what is best for the baby. I wanted the audience to go on that journey too.”
Korean culture is now incredibly popular worldwide. Do you see Japanese cinema and art growing globally too?
“It would be great if a lot more directors and actors could go overseas to work and really diversify the market. A big difference that I felt in South Korea compared to Japan is that a lot of the crew members or the creatives have studied overseas in the US and Hong Kyung-pyo – the director of photography on Broker – studied in the US and came back. So they have a different mindset, different perspectives. It showed as well, so if that could happen in Japan, maybe that would be a good thing too.”
Your next film is set in a Japanese elementary school. What can you tell us about it?
“I can’t say too much, but it’s slightly different to the genres that I’ve worked on previously. I’m still polishing it as we speak. So please, look forward to it!”
‘Broker’ is in cinemas now across the UK and Ireland