Updated: 05/21/2014 01:42 | By Agence France-Presse

Japanese female auteur draws mixed reception at Cannes

Japanese director Naomi Kawase on Tuesday unveiled her Cannes contender "Still the Water", a lyrical look at love, death and sex that she has called her "masterpiece" worthy of the coveted Palme d'Or.

Japanese female auteur draws mixed reception at Cannes

Japanese director Naomi Kawase leaves after the screening of the film "Still the Water" (Fututsume no Mado) at the 67th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 20, 2014 - by Loic Venance

Kawase, an auteur who has already bagged two awards at previous Cannes festivals, is one of two women vying for the Palme d'Or to be awarded by a jury led by New Zealand's Jane Campion, the only female director to win the top prize.

Last year, the 44-year-old Kawase became the first Japanese filmmaker to serve on the Cannes jury.

Critics, however, gave her latest project mixed reviews. 

The film explores the lives of two teenagers, Kyoko and Kaito, growing up on Amami Oshima, an isolated island off the southern coast of Japan where life is shrouded by the constant threat of vicious typhoons.

Kyoko's mother, a shaman offering spiritual guidance to her fellow islanders, is ravaged by an unspecified illness and returns home to die just as Kyoko has fallen in love with Kaito.

Kaito, however, is still reeling from his own parents' breakup and resists Kyoko's attempts to explore their budding sexuality.

One day he finds a tattooed corpse washed up on the beach, a dead man whom he believes to be his mother's new lover.

He angrily confronts her about the grisly discovery, touching off a struggle that eventually allows him to find peace with his father's absence.

The visually stunning, deeply sensual film espouses a belief in the redemptive power of nature and sex in the face of destruction and death. 

Kawase burst onto the international scene with her 1997 award of the Cannes Camera d'Or for "Suzuka".

That success was followed in 2007 with the festival's Grand Prix for "The Mourning Forest".

Kawase told reporters in Japan before the 12-day festival that she had her sights firmly set on the top honour this year.

"There is no doubt that this is my masterpiece," she said of 'Futatsume no mado' (literally, 'The second window').

- 'Nature that went wild' -

At the festival, Kawase played down those ambitions, saying the main point of taking part in Cannes was to introduce the film to a global audience.

"I believe that this is the most sophisticated film I've ever made in terms of the performances of the actors, from a technical point of view, in terms of the breadth of the topic addressed," she said.

"It's very moving to have the film viewed by people from around the world, that's what's most important. We're not at the Olympic Games."

Kawase said the 2011 Fukushima disaster, the earthquake and tsunami that claimed the lives of 18,000 people, had driven her to explore the themes in the film. 

"It was nature that went wild," she said. 

"What makes nature so beautiful and captivating is that despite the danger, people choose to live close to the potential threat."

US movie website Indiewire gave the film a strong shot at the festival's prizes, saying Kawase's "lyrical and personal style of cinema adds another treat to an already fantastic slate, and should make the competitive scuffle for the number one spot that more interesting".

French cinema website AlloCine said it was "already among the favourites for the Palme d'Or".

However trade magazine Hollywood Reporter lambasted "chunky" dialogue and "insubstantial characters" while critic Peter Bradshaw of Britain's Guardian gave it just three out of five stars.

"Kawase's film is sometimes beautiful and moving but I couldn't help occasionally finding it a little contrived and self-conscious," he said.

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