The good stuff
Fine drama by Kawase. It's a bit more stylized and toned down compared to her earlier work, combined with the strong performances of Misaki and Nagase it makes for a very captivating film. It looks great, features a beautiful soundtrack and the dramatic payoff is on point. Radiance is her best film so far.
There are quite a few parallels to be drawn between the careers of Kawase and Koreeda. True Mothers would form a perfect double bill with Koreeda's Like Father, like Son. Generally speaking I prefer the work of Koreeda, though lately Kawase has been making some very worthy films too.
Satoko and Kiyokazu can't get children together. After several failed attempts, they decide to adopt. They get the child of Hikari, a young girl who got pregnant at 14 and can't take care of the baby. The transaction goes smooth, but 6 years later Hikari returns as she can't forget about her little boy.
Performances are good, the drama is decent, cinematography is fine and the score is capable. There's nothing to complain about really, except that there's nothing truly exceptional about this film either. In the end the drama left me a little cold, which isn't what you want from a great drama.
Interesting drama with slight fantasy touches. Kawase loses herself in the spiritual angle though and Binoche's presence is a hindrance. Luckily Nagase is solid as a rock and the setting itself is almost magical. That said, it was hard to shake the feeling that Kawase waisted the film's full potential. Pretty good, but could've been a lot better.
A typical early Kawase that leans a little too much on its somewhat simplistic clash of cultures. Japan meets Thailand with some added French bits, it's not quite enough to keep things interesting, even though the running time is economic. Kawase's more doc-like style is a fine match, but it's all just a little too flimsy to make a real impact.
Worthy but flawed
Doc about some women who prefer to give "natural" births. Kawase focuses on the characters and some occasional drama, but with a topic like this it's a bit odd to ignore the science. That's probably the point of this documentary, but what is shown hardly convinced me this was an overall better way of bringing babies into this world.
I quite like anthology projects, as they offer an opportunity to directors to try something different, do something unexpected, to surprise. But then there are films like this, where each director just turns in a shorter version of what they regularly produce, only shot on a smaller budget.
In Kawase's short, Kang Jun-Il returns a sacred scroll to its ancestral home. In Hong's short we follow Mi-Sook as she drives off on a whim to visit an old classmate of hers. When she arrives, she finds out her friend is having an affair with a college professor. And in Diaz' short Carol returns home to the poor miner village where she grew up, only to become the target of a kidnapping ploy.
None of the short are anything special. They're pretty much what you'd expect from the directors, only less developed and visibly made with less money. Kawase's short is the nicest of the bunch, while Diaz' was the weakest for me. A waste of potential though, these tree established directors should've done a lot more with this chance.
Early Kawase documentary that feels empty and inconsequential. Kawase follows one photographer and two models on a photo shoot. As a director she also participates in the documentary, steering the conversations and critically questioning her subjects, but it never results in something meaningful.
Afterwards, it's hard to distill any kind of tangible topics or themes. The photographer appears to be overthinking his job, the models on the other hand feel lost and uncertain of what is expected of them. But these are very pedestrian problems and observations, nothing I felt should warrant an 80-minute documentary.
I'm sure this sounded way more interesting when Kawase thought up the idea, people who are interested in everyday slices of life might get something out of it, but it didn't do very little for me. The awkward and and stilted conversations held a smidgen of appeal, beyond that it's completely forgettable.