Still Walking (Hirokazo Kore-eda, 2008): Japan

Reviewed by Nitsa Pomerleau. Viewed at Campbell Hall, UCSB

There is a small yet precious handful of films I’ve  been fortunate to come across that inspire and entertain in such a way that when the credits roll I am left grinning in the dark, truly grateful that the feature was made. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest work,  Still Walking (Aruitemo aruitemo) is one of these films.

The picture begins with a close-up of radishes and a conversation along the lines of:  “Radishes are genius”. We are immediately enveloped in the subtly humming world of a middle-class family in modern-day Japan. The story unfolds over a 24-hour span, allowing a leisurely introduction to the Yokoyama family as the members gather (in and out of frame) at the home of Mother and Father Kyohei (Doctor Kyohei! as he would interject).

It is only halfway through the film (and satisfyingly so) that the motivation for this reunion is revealed: to mourn a third sibling who drowned twelve years ago while rescuing a boy in the ocean. Here dwells the Yokoyama family’s dysfunction. The mother invites the survivor (who conveniently is a sweaty, overweight struggling actor with one badly stained sock) for an annual, tortuous memorial. Her methods are passive-aggressive (and very funny) but the film evolves to show the mother as her own victim, as is beautifully expressed in a scene where she flutters in and out of focus in pursuit of a butterfly she believes to be her reincarnate son.

There is a deliberate quietness that resonates through this film. The articulation of natural light, organic sound (crickets—steaming—sizzling—dripping—eating—rain—crickets!), and relaxed choreography saturate the scenes with a sense of realism that is insightful and transcendent. A stream of understatement and inadvertently dark humor reveals the vulnerability of the family—and here I must note Kore-eda’s impeccable manipulation of the reaction shot… The narrative assumes a spherical shape, with threads of dialogue and imagery repeating and reworking themselves alongside the single-track score in a humble rhythm. I would like to say the film is subtle, but it is less than that, as Still Walking floats in a neutral environment without attempting to impart anything specific to the viewer. In one scene, the simple act of the grandson looking into the sky and pulling the mosquito coil closer captures the tone of the entire feature.

Still Walking is in many ways a tribute to Ozu, particularly Tokyo Story. Both films explore the nature of family (unconventional marriage, loss of a son, age, and filial ingratitude) and a distinctive technique (I recall the rhythmic insertion of unrelated images into the narrative and nearly ground-level “tatami mat” shots) to translate  a very “Japanese” fluidity of life. As someone with a palate that tends to like the tone of  art-house auteurs such as Ozu, I found this cinematic recycling very agreeable. For those in favor of a revival in Asian-minimalism, Still Walking, will give you hope. More simply,  I recommend anyone and everyone  get a hold of  this one (and for the Netflix savvy—it’s streaming).

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