Earthquake shaped work of Japanese Cannes contender

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Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami in March had a powerful impact on Naomi Kawase's haunting new film in competition at Cannes, the Japanese director said on Wednesday.

"Hanezu" -- one of 20 contenders for the coveted Palme d'Or to be awarded by jury president Robert De Niro on Sunday -- tells the story of a love triangle in the mountainous Asuka region, seen as the birthplace of the Japanese nation.

The contemporary drama of a marriage gone sour and a fateful affair is set against the backdrop of the area's stunning landscapes, as well as the myths and ancestral heritage that bear on modern life.

Although "Hanezu" was developed over several months, Kawase said the disaster on March 11 made her see the subject matter in a different light.

"Growing up in Nara taught me to respect nature, to lose myself in it," she told reporters, referring to the prefecture where Asuka is located.

"Humanity thought it could dominate everything. The tsunami was seen as absolute evil, but it's merely a natural phenomenon. Other elements in nature can give you a sense of security. We have to protect the place we live in.

"After the earthquake, I became aware of the fragile beauty of the earth."

Kawase, 41, said she was grateful for the sympathy and support for the catastrophe's victims that she had found at Cannes.

"The situation in Japan is complex: there are still hundreds of thousands of refugees," she said.

"My thoughts go out to them. At Cannes, there are many places where fundraising is going on. I am grateful for and touched by this generosity."

"Hanezu" refers to a shade of red which appears again and again in the symbol-driven film in the form of blood, dye, the sun and flames.

"In ancient times, (red) stood for power and glory. But it is also a colour which can fade very quickly, and hence also symbolises the fragile and the ephemeral, adjectives which be just as easily applied to power and money," she said. "It can all just disappear."

Kawase, one of a record four female directors in competition at Cannes, said she had her Tokyo-based actors live in Nara for a month to soak up the local colour and understand the local mindset.

Using a handheld camera, she filmed most scenes in one take.

Kawase in 1997 became the youngest winner of the Camera d'Or for best first feature with "Suzaku" and 10 years later she picked up the Jury Grand Prix for "The Mourning Forest".

The second of two Japanese films in competition, the 3D animated feature "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai", will screen Thursday.

© 2011 AFP

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