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Naomi Kawase

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Naomi Kawase
Kawase in 2017
Nara, Japan
Other namesNaomi Sento
Years active1992–present
Takenori Sento
(m. 1997; div. 2000)

Naomi Kawase (河瀨直美, Kawase Naomi) is a Japanese film director. She was also known as Naomi Sento (仙頭直美, Sentō Naomi), with her former husband's surname. Many of her works have been documentaries, including Embracing, about her search for the father who abandoned her as a child, and Katatsumori, about the grandmother who raised her.

Early life and education[edit]

Growing up in the rural region of Nara, Japan, Kawase's parents split early on in her childhood, leaving her to be raised by her great-aunt, with whom she held a combative, yet loving, relationship.[1]

She originally attended the Osaka School of Photography (Ōsaka Shashin Senmon Gakkō; now Visual Arts College Osaka[2]) to study television production, but she became interested in film and decided to switch her focus.[3] She was a student of Shunji Dodo at the college. She graduated in 1989.[2][4]


After graduating, she spent an additional four years at the college as a lecturer before releasing Embracing. Employing her interest in autobiography, most of her first short films focus on her turbulent family history, including her abandonment and her father's death.[5] Many of her first forays into filmmaking were autobiographical, inspired heavily by the rural landscape.[1]

Between 1994 and 1996, she released a trilogy of films about her great-aunt: Katatsumori, See Heaven and Sun on the Horizon.[6] She novelized her films Suzaku and Firefly.

In 2006, she released the forty-minute documentary Tarachime, which she prefers to be screened before her film from the following year. Tarachime revisits Kawase's relationship with her great-aunt, tackling very personal themes such as her aunt's growing dementia.[5]

Kawase completed production on her fourth full-length film The Mourning Forest (Mogari no Mori), which premièred in June 2007 in her hometown Nara and went on to win the Grand Prix at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.[7]

Her 2011 film Hanezu premiered in competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.[8][9]

Pop star Hikaru Utada asked Kawase to create the music video for her 2012 single "Sakura Nagashi" (桜流し, lit. "Flowing Cherry Blossoms/Cherry Blossoms Sinking"), later to be included on Utada's 2016 album Fantôme.

In 2013 Kawase was selected as a member of the main competition jury at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.[10]

Her 2014 film Still the Water was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or in the main competition section at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.[11] Her 2015 film Sweet Bean was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.[12]

In April 2016 she was announced as the president of the jury for the Cinéfondation and short films section of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.[13]

On October 23, 2018, it was announced that Kawase had been selected by the IOC to shoot the official film for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.[14] Scheduled to be released in 2022, the film places the 2020 Olympics within the wider context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the mixed reactions to the games from Japanese society.[15]


On December 26, 2021, the NHK aired a documentary about the production behind Kawase's 2020 Olympics documentary. Footage and captions alleged that protesters were paid money to attend anti-Olympics rallies as part of larger opposition against the games. One of the men interviewed later stated he was "unsure" if he had actually attended any anti-Olympics rallies. NHK Osaka cited "editorial oversights" and "deficiencies in research", issuing an apology. They denied that the footage was deliberately fabricated to be misleading.[16][17] On January 13, 2022, the NHK Osaka director Terunobu Maeda apologized during a press conference, admitting that the captions "should not have been included". Again he denied that the incident was a fabrication.[18]

In April 2022, Shūkan Bunshun reported that Kawase physically assaulted a camera assistant while filming True Mothers in May 2019, leading cinematographer Yūta Tsukinaga and his team to resign mid-production. Kawase did not deny the allegation.[19] In May 2022, the magazine also reported that she assaulted an employee at her production company, Kumie, in October 2015. The employee was reportedly punched in the face with a closed fist and chased through the office by Kawase. [20][21]

Styles and themes[edit]

Kawase's work is heavily concerned with the distorted space between fiction and non-fiction that has occurred within the state of modern Japanese society, approaching "fiction with a documentarian's gaze."[22] She employs this documentary-realism to focus on individuals of lesser cultural status, challenging prevailing representations of women within the male-dominated Japanese film industry.[1] This theme is also connected to her own personal reflections on contemporary issues in the current climate of economic depression such as the declining birthrate, alienation, and the collapse of traditional family structures.[23]

She frequently shoots on location with amateur actors.[1]

Kawase's style also invokes the autobiographical practices related to documentary style. Familiar and personal objects such as childhood photographs, and to explore her family history and identity. Her work reflects the personal, intimate, and domestic. Themes that are often associated with feminist practices and Women's Cinema.[24]

However, Kawase herself does not classify as a feminist due to Japanese feminism's tendency to persist collective identity and view women's problems through a narrow ideological lens. Instead, she looks at gender as a creative and fluid realm, rather than as a negative fixation. Kawase explains:

It is extremely difficult for us to observe our own life, as it involves looking into the embarrassing or undesirable aspects of ourselves. In a way, being a woman made it easier for me to look closely at my own environment. Women tend to be more intuitive and rely more on their senses, or it might be due to gender status differences in Japan ... Not being in the mainstream or the center, she can make new discoveries. In my case, I will create things from the sources within myself. I believe that at the depth of the personal there is something universal. [Sento 1999: 47][24]

Kawase's films challenge cinematic conventions.[24] Her subjects are primarily family and friends, and she frequently depicts the relationships between the filmmaker and the subject, and is self-reflexive of her own thoughts and emotions in her works.


She became the youngest winner of the la Caméra d'Or award (best new director) at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival for her first 35mm film, Suzaku.

This is a list of some of her awards:[25]

  • 1997: Camera D'Or, Cannes International Film Festival: Suzaku
  • 1999: Special Mention Prize, Vision du Reel: The Weald
  • 2000: FIPRESCI Prize: Hotaru
  • 2000: CICAE Prize: Hotaru
  • 2000: Best Achievement Award in Cinematography and Directing, Buenos Aires International Film Festival: Hotaru
  • 2007: Special Prize, Yamagata International Film Festival: Tarachime
  • 2007: Grand Prix, Cannes International Film Festival: The Mourning Forest
  • 2015: Chevalier Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France[26]
  • 2017: Ecumenical Jury Prize, Cannes International Film Festival: Radiance
  • 2021: Mainichi Film Award for Best Director: True Mothers[27]


Kawase's work was originally produced in various media: 8mm film, 16mm film, 35mm film, and video.[28]

  • I focus on that which interests me (1988, 5 min)
  • The concretization of these things flying around me (1988, 5 min)
  • My J-W-F (1988, 10 min)
  • Papa's Icecream (1988, 5 min)
  • My Solo Family (1989, 10 min)
  • Presently (1989, 5 min)
  • A Small Largeness (1989, 10 min)
  • The Girl's Daily Bread (1990, 10 min)
  • Like Happiness (1991, 20 min)
  • Embracing (につつまれて; 1992, 40 min)
  • White Moon (1993, 55 min)
  • Katatsumori (かたつもり; 1994, 40 min)
  • See Heaven (天、見たけ; 1995, 10 min)
  • Memory of the Wind (1995, 30 min)
  • This World (1996, 8 min)
  • Sun on the Horizon (陽は傾ぶき; 1996, 45 min)
  • Suzaku (萌の朱雀; 1997, 95 min)
  • The Weald (杣人物語; 1997, 73 min)
  • Kaleidoscope (Mangekyō) (1999, 81 min)
  • Firefly (Hotaru) (2000, 164 min)
  • Sky, Wind, Fire, Water, Earth (きゃからばあ) (2001, 55 min)
  • Letter from a Yellow Cherry Blossom (Tsuioku no dansu) (2003, 65 min)
  • Shara (Sharasōju) (2003, 100 min)
  • Kage (Shadow) (2006, 26 min)
  • Tarachime (2006, 43 min)
  • The Mourning Forest (Mogari No Mori) (2007, 97 min)
  • Nanayomachi 「七夜待」(2008)
  • In Between Days (2009)
  • Visitors (2009) (segment "Koma")
  • Genpin (2010)
  • Hanezu (2011)
  • 60 Seconds of Solitude in Year Zero (2011)
  • Chiri (2012)
  • Still the Water (2014)
  • Sweet Bean (2015)
  • Radiance (2017)
  • Vision (2018)
  • Tokyo 2020 Official Film (2020)
  • True Mothers (2020)


  1. ^ a b c d Karatsu 2009, p. 168.
  2. ^ a b "Catalog" (PDF), matchandcompany.com, Match & Co, retrieved 24 August 2010.
  3. ^ "Kawase Naomi". yidff.jp. Japan: Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  4. ^ continuity voice (21 May 2010). "Transcription". MBS.jp (in Japanese). Retrieved 25 August 2010.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ a b "An interview with Naomi Kawase, director of "The Mourning Forest"". Meniscus Magazine. US. 19 August 2008. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  6. ^ "Sun on the Horizon (1996) | 組画". www.kawasenaomi.com. Retrieved 12 November 2020.
  7. ^ "The Mourning Forest". Festival de Cannes. France. Retrieved 20 December 2009.
  8. ^ "Official Selection". Festival de Cannes. France. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  9. ^ "Cannes film festival 2011: The full lineup". The Guardian. UK. 14 April 2011. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  10. ^ Saperstein, Pat (23 April 2013). "Nicole Kidman, Christopher Waltz, Ang Lee Among Cannes Jury Members". Variety. Reed Business Information. Retrieved 23 April 2013.
  11. ^ "2014 Official Selection". Cannes. Retrieved 17 April 2014.
  12. ^ "Complement to the Official Selection". Cannes Film Festival. 23 April 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  13. ^ "The Short Films and Cinéfondation Jury 2016". Cannes Film Festival. 28 April 2016. Retrieved 28 April 2016.
  14. ^ "Naomi Kawase appointed to direct the Official Film of Tokyo 2020 - Olympic News". International Olympic Committee. 15 July 2021. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  15. ^ Thomas Page. "Naomi Kawase's Olympic film promises to be like nothing you've ever seen before". CNN. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  16. ^ NHKの河瀬直美さんの五輪番組、字幕に不確かな内容 21年放送. Mainichi Shimbun (in Japanese). Retrieved 10 January 2022.
  17. ^ NHK、事実確認せず不適切字幕「金もらって」「五輪反対デモ参加」. The Asahi Shimbun (in Japanese). 9 January 2022. Retrieved 10 January 2022.
  18. ^ NHK字幕問題 大阪放送局長陳謝「入れるべきではなかった」. Mainichi Shimbun (in Japanese). Retrieved 14 January 2022.
  19. ^ 東京五輪公式記録映画・河瀬直美監督 撮影中の暴行でカメラマンが降板. Shūkan Bunshun (in Japanese). 27 April 2022. Retrieved 25 May 2022.
  20. ^ 「拳で顔面を殴打」東京五輪公式記録映画・河瀬直美監督が事務所スタッフに暴力. Shūkan Bunshun (in Japanese). 25 May 2022. Retrieved 25 May 2022.
  21. ^ 河瀨直美監督に今度は殴打パワハラ疑惑 撮影助手への腹蹴りに続き...優秀な男性職員の退職申し出に「怒りをぶつけたよう」 週刊文春報道. Gekkan Fuji (in Japanese). 26 May 2022. Retrieved 8 March 2023.
  22. ^ Yamane 2002.
  23. ^ Karatsu 2009, p. 167.
  24. ^ a b c Karatsu, Rie (30 March 2009). "Questions for a Women's Cinema: Fact, Fiction and Memory in the Films of Naomi Kawase". Visual Anthropology. 22 (2–3): 167–181. doi:10.1080/08949460802623739. ISSN 0894-9468. S2CID 144460326.
  25. ^ Profile, KAWASE Naomi, archived from the original on 7 May 2012.
  26. ^ "La France récompense la réalisatrice japonaise Naomi Kawase". Romandie.com (in French). Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  27. ^ "毎日映画コンクール大賞は『MOTHER マザー』に決定 主演賞は森山未來&水川あさみ". Crank-in!. Retrieved 22 January 2021.
  28. ^ Works, KAWASE Naomi, archived from the original on 24 March 2010.


  • Lopez, José Manuel, ed. (2008), El cine en el umbral (in Spanish), Madrid: T&B, ISBN 978-84-96576-63-6.
  • Novielli, Roberta Maria, ed. (2002), Kawase Naomi: i film, il cinema (in Spanish), Cantalupa, TO: Effatà, ISBN 978-88-7402-012-6.
  • Karatsu, Rie (2009), "Questions for a Women's Cinema: Fact, Fiction and Memory in the Films of Naomi Kawase", Visual Anthropology, 22 (2–3), Japan: 167–181, doi:10.1080/08949460802623739, S2CID 144460326.
  • Yamane, Sadao (2002), "Tokyo Journal", Film Comment: Publ. By the Film Society of Lincoln Center, US: Film Society of Lincoln Center, ISSN 0015-119X.

External links[edit]