Koreeda’s mastery of the subtle gives this drama an emotional weight as pure as life itself.
Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda
2008 | Japan | Drama | 114 mins | 1.85:1 | Japanese
PG (passed clean)
Cast: Hiroshi Abe, Yui Natsukawa, Kirin Kiki
Plot: A family gathers together for a commemorative ritual whose nature only gradually becomes clear.
Awards: Official Selection (Toronto)
International Sales: Celluloid Dreams
Subject Matter: Moderate/Life-Affirming
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on Criterion Blu-ray – first published 24 Nov 2014)
I have only recently discovered Hirokazu Koreeda, and my word, I think that he is one of the most important Asian filmmakers working today. I first saw his Cannes Jury Prize winning drama Like Father, Like Son (2013), perhaps one of the year’s most emotionally powerful films. It eventually became my favourite film of 2013, and got me interested in the works of the contemporary master.
This one here, Still Walking, is as remarkable as they come by. It is remarkable because of its simplicity, yet evoking complex feelings and deep, affecting themes related to family dynamics, marriage, love and conflict. For most parts set in the home of the grandparents over the course of one day and night, Still Walking sees their children bringing their family along for a visit as part of an annual ritual.
The film loosely recalls the likes of Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953), or its modern remake Tokyo Family (2013) by Yoji Yamada. But what is a wee bit different about Koreeda’s film is its subtlety. The director’s mastery of the subtle is breathtaking. His screenplay explores the above-mentioned themes indirectly, never tackling them head-on.
“There’s nothing to watch on TV these days. They laugh so loud but nothing’s funny.”
The dialogue can revolve around the preparation of food (the film opens with the cooking of a feast), yet it reveals so much about the people behind the stove. At the same time, despite being a dialogue-driven film, there is a sense that not all is revealed, that there are secrets and mysteries.
I think it is this balance of restrain and revelation by Koreeda that helps to shape the characters’ dispositions and attitudes, imbuing in them a flawed all-roundedness few directors can claim to achieve.
The actors, under Koreeda’s composed direction, all deliver naturalistic acting as if there is no script, except the script of life, which the film distills into a palatable, if slow, but ultimately potently bittersweet look at guilt, regrets and the hope that we will continue to walk on.
There is a sense of melancholic beauty to the title ‘Still Walking’ – effectively capturing the essence of life itself, both in humanity’s innate optimism to carry on, and the bitter reality of moving on.