Naomi Kawase, Japan’s best-known female film director, has been accused of bullying her company staff and assaulting a member of her film crew.
In late April, Bunshun Online, the website of a leading weekly tabloid, published an interview with a former male staffer of Kawase’s production company Kumie. He stated that Kawase had punched him in the face in the company office in October of 2015. Kawase allegedly continued her assault against the staffer, leaving him facially bruised, as other staff members fled the scene. He quit the company that day.
On April 28, Kawase and the anonymous staffer issued a joint statement on Kumie’s site, saying that “The parties involved have already reached a resolution regarding the incident.”
Earlier, a vernacular magazine reported that, in 2019, while on the set of her film “True Mothers,” Kawase kicked a male assistant cameraman, after he touched her while she was looking through the camera. Kawase did not publicly respond to this allegation.
The allegations may have played a significant part in sinking the box office debut of the first element of Kawase’s two-part Olympic documentary “Official Film of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Side A.”
Opening nationwide on June 3, “Side A” limped to No. 13 in the Eiga.com weekend box office rankings, far behind No. 1 “Top Gun: Maverick.” The second part “Side B” will open on June 24.
Although the troubled Tokyo Olympics, which was held in the midst of the pandemic to mostly empty seats, had its share of negative PR, from huge cost overruns for the main Olympic stadium to the sudden resignation of Olympics organizing committee president Mori Yoshiro in March of 2021 for sexist remarks, the Games themselves were a resounding success for the host country. Japan finished third in the medal count and the country eventually took pride in fulfilling a promise to go ahead rather than cancel.
Kawase won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997 and has had films in competition on multiple other occasions. She returned to the festival last month, where “Side A” received a standing ovation at its world premiere.
But Japanese cinema goers were much cooler. On the local Yahoo! film site, 59% of the fans who had seen the film gave it a one-star rating.
In Cannes, Kawase spoke with Variety about the Olympics, her film and the growing #MeToo movement in Japan.
“The debate is becoming very emotional. But, this current climate is very black and white, very women versus men, very polarized… I wish that we could return to being human beings and talk to one another,” she said.
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