By Julien Pretot
CANNES, France (Reuters) - Hirokazu Kore-eda's "Umimachi Diary" (Our Little Sister), a slow, poetic look at time passing, is the perfect antidote to the adrenaline shot that "Mad Max: Fury Road" gave the Cannes Festival just before the competition effectively started on Thursday.
While George Miller's opus, which was screened out of competition, is the ultimate action film, "Umimachi Diary" tells the story of three sisters and their half-sister in Japan and echoes the work of the late Yasujiro Ozu.
"One needs to step back to look at how time goes by. In this way my work is similar to Ozu's," Kore-eda told a news conference ahead of the film's premiere on La Croisette.
"It's a story on character and time that passes."
Three sisters living in the old city of Kamakura travel to the funeral of their estranged father and invite their younger half-sister to live with them.
"It's a beautiful film, classically Japanese in terms of lifestyle. It depicts the beauty of the seasons. I'm eager to see how it will be welcomed in the West," said lead actress Ayase Haruka.
Kore-eda's previous film, "Like Father, Like Son", got a warm reception at Cannes two years ago as it won the Jury Prize.
He will be in fierce competition this year with a director he looks up to, Taiwan's Hou Hsiao Hsien, who presents "The Assassin" at Cannes.
"He's a strong paternal figure, I am pleased to be competing here with him," said Kore-eda.
Also in competition on Thursday was Italian director Matteo Garrone’s “Il Racconto dei Racconti” (Tale of Tales), an action fantasy based on the 17th century fairytales of the Neapolitan writer Basile.
Garrone said that he’d chosen the tales because they were a bit off kilter from other fairytales, including as they do a story about a king who falls in love with a flea and another king who kills a sea monster in order to feed its heart to his wife so she can become pregnant.
The film, a big budget production for Italy, with actress Salma Hayek as the barren queen, is long at two hours but weaves together some fascinating characters and plots.
"It was an ambitious project, granted, one had to be a bit bold and daring to do. But I launched into this adventure with a whole group of actors and actresses who are quite extraordinary and you saw the result," said Garrone.
Hayek said eating the sea monster heart – which she said Garrone had insisted be realistic enough to fool a doctor watching the film – had been excruciating.
"Disgusting! No, we have to talk about this; our director here wanted the heart to be inside, identical to the real heart. It's not just from the outside that was perfect, he needed inside all the exact parts; God forbid I took a bite and a doctor would recognize there's an artery missing!"
(Additional reporting by Mike Roddy; Editing by Hugh Lawson)