Naomi Kawase was born in 1969 in Nara, Japan. In 1989, she graduated from the Osaka School of Photography (formerly Visual Arts Osaka) and became a lecturer there for four years. She started her career in film by making short autobiographical documentaries (Hollar). In Embracing (1992), Kawase searches for her father whom she had not seen since her parents’ divorce. Katatsumori (1994) is about her close relationship with her great-aunt whom she calls “grandmother”. In 1995, these two documentaries received many awards at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival.
Kawase released her first feature film, Suzaku, in 1997. Suzaku follows a family living in a rural Japanese village in the mountains. This film won the Caméra d’Or, making Kawase the youngest person to win this award at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. Suzaku also received a FIPRESCI Prize from the International Federation of Film Critics at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in the Netherlands. She continued to receive critical acclaim for Firefly (2000), which deals with loss and love. This film won the FIPRESCI Prize and the CICAE Prize from the International Confederation of Art Cinemas at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland. She proceeded to make Letter from a Yellow Cherry Blossom (2003), a documentary film about Kazuo Nishii, a photographer and film critic battling cancer.
Many of Kawase’s films such as Suzaku (1997), Shara (2003), and Mogari (2007) are connected to the environment in which she grew up; they are set in or near her hometown of Nara (Schoneveld). In Mogari, for example, “location and setting become important narrative devices”; Kawase highlights the relationship between humans and the landscape (Schoneveld). She often explores rural families and their connnection to the natural world whilst bringing a tender documentarian gaze to fictional storytelling (Scanlon). The dual existence of both an objective and subjective gaze as well as Kawase’s frequent casting of amateur actors reflect this blend of docummentry and narrative filmmaking (Schoneveld). Shara (2003) is a drama film about a boy’s disappearance and his family. This film was selected to compete at the Cannes Film Festival. Mogari, which explores grief and family, won the Grand Prix at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.
Kawase’s most recent film, True Mothers (2020) is an adoption drama adapted from one of Mizuki Tsujimura’s novels. True Mothers was selected for the 2020 Cannes Film Festival and was shown at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival.
Kawase served on the Feature Film jury at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. She founded the Nara International Film Festival in 2010 and is currently the Executive Director.
FILMOGRAPHY (including short films and documentary shorts)
Papa’s Ice Cream (1988)
The Concretization of These Things Flying Around (1988)
I Focus on That Which Interests Me (1988)
My J-W-F (1988)
A Small Largeness (1989)
My Solo Family (1989)
The Girl’s Daily Bread (1990)
White Moon (1993)
See Heaven (1995)
Memory of the Wind (1995)
Sun on the Horizon (1996)
The World (Winter) (1996) with Hirokazu Kore-Eda
The Weald (1997)
Firefly (Horatu) (2000)
Sky, Wind, Fire, Water, Earth (2001)
Letter from a Yellow Cherry Blosssom (2002)
Mogari (The Mourning Forest) (2007)
In Between Days (2009) with Isaki Lacuesta
Visitors (2009, “Koma”)
3.11 Sense of Home (2011, “Home”)
Still the Water (2014)
Sweet Bean (2015)
Where Do You Stand Now, Naomi Kawase? (2018)
True Mothers (2020)
Scanlon, Hayley. “Where to Begin with Naomi Kawase.” British Film Institute, British Film Institute, 14 Sept. 2020,
Holler, Sherman. “Naomi Kawase.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,
Naomi Kawase, dafilms.com/director/8274-naomi-kawase.
“Naomi Kawase, President of The Cinéfondation and Short Films Jury.” Festival De Cannes 2020, 2016,
“Naomi KAWASE.” Festival De Cannes 2020,
“PROFILE.” Naomi KAWASE | KUMIE Inc.,
Rooney, David. “Suzaku.” Variety, Variety, 23 Feb. 1997, variety.com/1997/film/reviews/suzaku-1200448711/.
Schoneveld, Erin. “Naomi Kawase’s ‘Cinema of Place.’” Arts, vol. 8, no. 2, 2019, p. 43., doi:10.3390/arts8020043.
To cite this biofilmography, please use this reference: Ko, Emily (2021) "Naomi Kawase's biofilmography" Gynocine Project, ed.