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Organizational Life and Cinematic Communities: Insights from Kore-eda Hirokazu

Memory, film, and community—Professor Marc Yamada demonstrates how Kore-eda Hirokazu uses film techniques to create worlds that encourage community in the 2024 P. A. Christensen Lecture.

Picture of Professor Marc Yamada presenting at the P. A. Christensen Lecture
Photo by Colby St. Gelais

“Wouldn’t life be suffocating if everything had a purpose?” Professor Marc Yamada (East Asian Film and Literature) asked while delivering the 2024 P. A. Christensen Lecture. His question—a quote from the film I Wish (2011)—formed the basis for his discussion of the work of Japanese filmmaker Kore-eda Hirokazu. Yamada’s lecture, “Life in More Abundance: Cinematic Images of Community in Organizational Life,” uses Hirokazu’s films to analyze how organizations can become communities—both on and off the screen.

Film and Memory

As Yamada explained, Hirokazu’s films show his belief that film and memory are connected and how this interconnectedness creates community through organizational life—people’s experience through interactions caused by organizations like schools, churches, etc. Film allows people to recall moments from before they were born and capture history as it happens—which allows people to connect to communities of different time periods or locations—while memories become stronger as people record the films and revisit them years later. Yamada said, “Filmmaking is analogous to memory; not only does film serve as a repository for memories, but the process of recording and viewing cinematic images replicates the process of remembering, both in a personal and communal way.”

Image of movie poster with the word "Distance" on a blue background with a white and yellow flower underneath.
Photo by Kore-eda Hirokazu and Masayuki Akieda

Hirokazu’s Distance (2001) examines how
memory and organizational life can form community. Years prior to the start of the film, a terrorist organization poisoned the water supply of a Tokyo suburb before committing mass suicide in a remote cabin. On the anniversary of this attack, five people, all related to members of the terrorist group, return to the cabin to memorialize their family members and reenact the night to understand why their family members did what they did. While they reflect on these memories, they bond through their grief and ostracism from society, forming a community where they can quietly acknowledge their family members’ wrongdoings while also sitting in their own grief.

Yamada said, “They recall their last interaction with their dead relatives. Interactions shown through flashbacks that represent a reclaiming of the identities of the dead from labels like ‘terrorist’ or ‘freedom fighter.’ In this way, the communities that protagonists form in reaction to the stigma of being associated with radicalism . . . provide commemoration that brings individuals together.”

Film and Shared Spaces

Along with the interconnectedness of memory, film, and community, Yamada examined the way Hirokazu uses space and movement in his films to create community within the film, but also to those outside of the film. Hirokazu uses many techniques developed by Japanese filmmaker Ozu Yasujirō. Yamada emphasized the importance of audiences being able to claim a space, just as film characters do. Similar to how people can imagine what they want to do when they move into an empty house, as characters move into shots or locations, viewers can temporarily imagine the possibilities for the space, or claim it. It gives them an opportunity to wonder what the characters will do with the space before the action actually happens.

Yasujirō achieved this prompt for imagination through pillow shots, which break the flow of the scene by showing a stagnant shot with no narrative purpose and then cutting away to a different shot that reintroduces narrative elements.

Movement is one way filmmakers can use to help their audience connect with their films in a more tactile way. Yamada explained that through movement, audiences can think back on their own experiences and imagine or relate to what the characters on the screen feel in that moment. As characters interact with utilitarian spaces in unknown or unique ways, characters can “provide a glimpse of other possibilities that arise within.”

Image of movie poster with the words "Our Little Sister" on a green background with four women holding sparklers underneath.
Photo by Kore-eda Hirokazu and Toho Co., Ltd.

Hirokazu uses this technique in Our Little Sister (2015), where three sisters travel to the funeral of their estranged father. In coming to this town, the sisters meet their younger half-sister, Suzu. As Suzu takes the sisters on steep, unknown paths, it allows them to bond through their physical experiences, which reflect the familial relationships present in the film. This also creates an opportunity for the audience to bond with the sisters, imagining their experience and seeing how their emotions reflect in their physical labor. Yamada said, “The strain of climbing up steep stairs and paths not only serves as a form of bonding for the characters through the mutual claiming of space, but . . . it stimulates the tactile experience of embodied spectators. They invite us to claim the space as well.”

Pushing the Boundaries of a Humanities Education

When Yamada served as a co-director of International Cinema (IC), the program showed several screenings of the Korean film Parasite. In each screening, hundreds of people packed into the small auditorium, and many stayed after the film to discuss it with other attendees. As Yamada talked to those who came, he was surprised by how many—most, actually—moviegoers found out about the film through word-of-mouth. This experience showed Yamada how clearly organizations can create community and how the arts specifically allows people to bond over things they love.

Organizations, like university educations, give structure to people’s lives, but students often don’t take advantage of the flexibility of these organizations and push their boundaries to enrich their college experiences. Rather, many college students focus their college experience on the courses in their major in order to finish quickly—often at the expense of enjoying hobbies, fun classes, or activities.

Yamada disagrees with this way of approaching a college education, believing that a humanities education should include going to the occasional International Cinema showing, taking a poetry class just for the fun of it, or joining a book club to connect with others. Yamada emphasized the community-building aspect of organizations and claiming one’s own space to move past the utilitarian purpose of education to enjoy experiences and build connections.

Echoing the words of Hirokazu’s I Wish, he said, “Wouldn’t a humanities education be suffocating if everything had a purpose?”

The P.A. Christensen Humanities Lecture honors the memory of Parley A. Christensen, a BYU English professor from 1927 to 1965. He was known as both a teacher and scholar as well as a lecturer and writer, and was chair of the BYU English Department for 20 years. Click to watch previous P. A. Christensen lectures.