Thursday, September 15, 2022

277. Japanese film director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s fifteenth feature film “Broker” (2022), based on his original screenplay, set in South Korea and made in the Korean language: “Finding ourselves and each other”



"'Thank you for being born.' - A single sentence that touches the audience in such a way that entire films rarely can. When every character, no matter how small or large, is intricately layered, simultaneously fractured and in the end so lovingly developed, that's cinema. Great cinema. This film is a journey. One filled with longings, with decisions, with detours. Sometimes it is precisely these detours that we must take in life to find ourselves and each other. And we found a bit of ourselves in this film."

--Citation of the Best International film award for Broker at the Munich film festival

Two contemporary Japanese directors Hirokazu Kore-eda and Naomi Kawase are fascinating filmmakers because both make wonderful, distinctive films, both write their own original screenplays and most of their tales revolve around relationships involving parents and children, orphans and adoption. Sometimes the parents are old and dying, sometimes they are young and experiencing parenthood for the first time; sometimes they are yearning to be part of a family. (Kawase, of course, adds nature into the equation, while Kore-eda adds heart-warming humour.) That is why their films are so appealing when you reflect on what they offer in their films.

Young mother So-young (acted by IU, the stage name of
singer-songwriter-actress Lee Ji-eun)
preparing to deposit her child in the box
for adoption late in the night

So-young depositing her child in the Church's adoption box

Kore-eda has shifted gears in the last two films; his tales have moved beyond Japan. In The Truth (2019) the tale was set in France with three generations of a family in focus and the ethics or lack of ethics in their behaviour, developing the tale, with the help of outstanding French actresses (Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche, playing the major roles of mother and daughter, respectively). In Broker (2022), the Kore-eda tale is set in South Korea with Korean actors, one of whom won the Best Actor award at Cannes for his performance in this very film. Almost every character in Broker is significant. Each character is an orphan, or has given birth to a child that she cannot care for, or is a character hoping to have a foster child to care for. Thus, the tale is once again about orphans and families, a recurring Kore-eda theme. To this basic framework in Broker, Kore-eda adds the element of illegal, unethical and criminal commerce into the mix.

Kore-eda's criminal family: like the one in his Shoplifters.
Three, if not four (including the baby), are orphans. The man
holding the child is the main 'broker' (Song Kang-ho, who won
the Cannes Best Actor award for the role)

The two lady Korean police officers shadowing the brokers
in an unmarked car to catch them the act of human-trafficking 

The mother So-young entrapped by the shadow police

Kore-eda’s forte is to present diverse characters and to link them all in a single central concept as directors Robert Altman or John Cassavetes would do in their films. In Broker, as stated in the above award citation, the overarching theme is about being born into this world and appreciating the support from another person to live and form essential relationships for the future. Those who have been deprived of such fulsome life try to ensure that others they notice to be deprived of that privilege do get to enjoy that missing bonding. In Kore-eda’s Shoplifters  (2018) the film dwelt on the fact that we don’t choose our family—it could have helped if we could. In Kore-eda’s most complex and rewarding film, The Third Murder (2017), the director extended the human bonding among human beings, to visual metaphors of man and birds. Kore-eda’s recent geographical moves to France and Korea, remind you of another contemporary Japanese filmmaker Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car (2021), consciously shifting the tale of the film from Japan to Korea. Kore-eda and Hamaguchi are both asking us to view the world as a global village, where human concerns remain the same, irrespective of geographies.

The mother joins the 'brokers' to negotiate with 
likely foster parents

In Broker, Kore-eda’s move from Japan to Korea is possibly prompted by Korea allowing unwanted children to be anonymously dropped off in a box at a church, which is not so common a practice in Japan. Whilst most such children are taken good care of by the church, there is a grown-up orphan who has infiltrated the staff of that church to steal new drop-offs before the church authorities get to record its arrival. The “brokers” delete footage recorded in the surveillance footage recorded by the church. The stolen children get good care by the human traffickers described by the director’s chosen title as ”brokers” who look for foster parents in the black market.  There are always eager childless couples ready to pay good money for adopting a child bypassing the red tape of legal adoption that the church and the country insist on before the adoption is legally formalized. Two Korean police-women in an unmarked vehicle, have tip-off of the brokers’ activities and are shadowing them to catch the brokers red-handed making an illegal deal with foster parents. Director and writer Kore-eda loves to add spice to the basic framework—here he throws in a murder, a rich-widow of the murdered person with no real love for a child but shows an interest in raising the child because it her murdered husband’s offspring, and finally one of the shadowing policewomen‘s personal interest in adoption. It may seem too convoluted and unreal but it works as it did in Shoplifters.  Both Kore-eda and Kawase, as original scriptwriters/directors, are amazing in their abilities making film after film on subjects that are essentially on children, orphans and family.

Kore-eda’s nod to US director P. T. Anderson’s film Magnolia (1999), with the policewoman listening to the song Wise Up, used in the US film and discussing it over the phone while shadowing the human-traffickers is another element to reinforce the global village concept of Kore-eda’s vision.  

Broker is definitely one of the best films of 2022 and of the director’s oeuvre. The last five minutes of the film wraps up the tale on a positive note, bringing to mind the similarities and the contrasts of the two films Broker and Shoplifters. Once again Kore-eda makes the thin line between the good guys (Korean cops, caring parents) and the bad guys (brokers of all hues, murderers, vengeful wives, bad son born to a good family getting involved with thugs) almost disappear. The Third Murder, however,  remains the more sophisticated and philosophical work of Kore-eda.

P.S.   Broker won the Best Actor award and the Ecumenical Jury prize at the Cannes international film festival in 2022. It won the Best International Film award at the 2022 Munich film festival. Two earlier works of director Kore-eda The Third Murder (2017) and The Truth (2019) have been reviewed earlier on this blog. (Please click on their names in this post-script to access those reviews.) My ranked list of Kore-eda's films is on Letterboxd. Broker is one of the author's best films of 2022.