By Julien Pretot
CANNES, France (Reuters) - Japan's Hirokazu Kore-eda has an unhurried, contemplative way of telling stories -- a choice that could well earn him the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film festival for "Umimachi Diary".
Speaking to Reuters on Saturday, Kore-eda, who won the Jury Prize at Cannes two years ago, explained that he deliberately stripped his scenario of the tension that often holds a film together.
In "Umimachi Diary", three sisters living in the old seaside city of Kamakura travel to the funeral of their estranged father and invite their younger half-sister to live with them.
"There is one conflict between the elder sister (Sachi) and the second sister (Yoshino), they are having an argument about the latter's boyfriend but I did not want to show them fighting," Kore-eda, often considered as the late master Yasujiro Ozu's spiritual heir, said.
"Maybe a more conventional way of telling that story would have been more dramatic, with ups and downs. I did not want to do it that way."
Kore-eda takes us through Yoshino and Sachi's dating lives without the slightest touch of drama, his way of filming reminiscent of that of Taiwanese Hou Hsiao Hsien, also in competition in Cannes with "The Assassin".
He films gatherings at the dinner table, peaceful walks on the beach as the sisters glide through the season as if time had no grip on them in a long, poetic stare at Japan's values.
The elder sister, Sachi (played by the magnetic Haruka Ayase) "acts like their mother, she teaches them discipline, telling them how to sit, how to hold their chopsticks," said Kore-eda.
"It is because she was raised by their grandmother. She gave up becoming someone's wife to stay with her sisters and almost be their mother."
Kore-eda's soft film making takes root in the way he directs his actors.
"It comes from his personality," Ayase told Reuters.
"He is very gentle and delicate. It kind of transcends to his sets. He creates an atmosphere of calm and gentleness."
Kaho, who plays Yoshino, echoed her co-star's point of view.
"He is a film maker who places great value on the atmosphere there is on set," she told Reuters.
"It is the first time that I felt naturally myself on set. I felt there was a film being made without me being conscious of it."
After all the contemplation, Ayase is now looking for some action, however.
Asked what character she would like to play next, she said: "I want to play an undefeated martial artist."
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Rosalind Russell)