Kawase Naomi (born May 30, 1969) is a Japanese film director. Many of her works have been documentaries, including Embracing, about her search for the father who abandoned her as a child, and Katatsumori, about the grandmother who raised her.
Growing up in the rural region of Nara, Kawase's parents split early on in her childhood leaving her to be raised by her great-aunt, with whom she held a combative, yet loving, relationship. The youth she spent in Nara has had a drastic effect on her career. Many of her first forays into filmmaking were autobiographical, inspired heavily by the rural landscape. She originally attended the Osaka School of Photography to study television production and later became interested in film, deciding to switch her focus.
After graduating in 1989 from the Osaka School of Photography, where she was a student of Dodo Shunji, she spent an additional four years there as a lecturer before releasing Embracing. Employing her interest in autobiography, most of her first short films focus on her turbulent family history, including her abandonment and her father's death. She became the youngest winner of the la Caméra d'Or award (best new director) at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival for her first 35mm film, Suzaku. She novelized her films Suzaku and Firefly.
In 2006, she released the forty-minute documentary Tarachime, which she prefers to be screened before her film from the following year. Tarachime revisits Kawase's relationship with her great-aunt, tackling very personal themes such as her aunt's growing dementia.
Kawase completed production on her fourth full-length film The Mourning Forest (Mogari no Mori), which premièred in June 2007 in her hometown Nara and went on to win the Grand Prix at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.
Her 2011 film Hanezu premiered In Competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. In 2013 she was selected as a member of the main competition jury at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
Her 2014 film Still the Water was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or in the main competition section at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.
Kawase's work is heavily concerned with the distorted space between fiction and non-fiction that has occurred within the state of modern Japanese society, approaching "fiction with a documentarian's gaze." She employs this documentary-realism to focus on individuals of lesser cultural status, challenging prevailing representations of women within the male-dominated Japanese film industry. This theme is also connected to her own personal reflections on contemporary issues in the current climate of economic depression such as the declining birthrate, alienation, and the collapse of traditional family structures.
She frequently shoots on location with amateur actors.