Still the Water (2014)

The sea, by turns calm and angry, mirrors the hearts of the young protagonists, who must accept life’s vulnerabilities in Kawase’s poetic piece, shot largely on the southern Japanese island of Amami Oshima. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,605

Dir. Naomi Kawase
2014 | Japan | Drama/Romance | 116 min | 2.35:1 | Japanese
M18 (passed clean) for sexual scenes and nudity

Cast: Nijiro Murakami, Junko Abe, Miyuki Matsuda
Plot: On the Japanese island of Amami, despite lacking parental guidance, Kaito and his girlfriend Kyoko try to find their place in the world. While Kaito suffers from the absence of his father, who moved to Tokyo after his birth, Kyoko must come to grips with her mother’s terminal illness.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: MK2

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Coming-of-Age; Island Life; Terminal Illness
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

I’m still catching up on Naomi Kawase’s works—this is my third one after The Mourning Forest (2007) and True Mothers (2020).  If The Mourning Forest is a sea of green, then Still the Water is a song of blue, an elegy about life and death, as well as love and distance. 

Shot largely on the southern Japanese island of Amami Oshima, the film follows two young protagonists, Kaito and Kyoko, who both study in the same school.  They are infatuated with each other, perhaps more so with the girl towards the boy. 

Junko Abe is fantastic as Kyoko, such is her natural presence and beauty.  Unfortunately, Kyoko’s mom is suffering from a terminal illness and the prospect of her dying affects Kyoko deeply.  Kaito is also not without family problems of his own.  In his case, his parents are separated—his father’s in Tokyo while his mother takes care of him on the island. 

“Why is it that people are born and die?”

The sea is all-enveloping and Kawase takes pains to document the sun and water, imbuing her film with a tranquil mood, even though a dead tattooed body washes up ashore in the opening minutes.  But make no mistake, this is not a crime procedural but a poetic piece about learning to cope with and accept life’s vulnerabilities. 

Apart from a couple of animal killings as part of the islanders’ tradition, which may offend certain folks who are into animal rights, Still the Water should provide a mostly peaceful and compassionate engagement with the hidden depths of the aching and perturbed heart.

In fact, in probably the film’s most artful underwater scene, we see the protagonists dive naked into the sea as they attempt, symbolically perhaps, to make what is hidden within themselves tangible to behold, accept and move on from. 

Grade: B+



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