Reviews - Still Walking
Reviewed By John Stakes
Last Sunday we moved from Italy to Japan to revisit a genre in which the Japanese are particularly adroit namely the exploration of tensions and dramas lying beneath the calm surface of respectable family life. This reviewer is not familiar with the films of 48 years old Hirokazu Koreeda but apparently he specialises in the subject of people haunted by death. Research reveals that in the making of his 2008 “Still Walking” he was inspired in part by the then recent death of his mother, and that half the lines by the mother in this film (Toshiko ) were things his mother spoke but the father (Kyohei) apparently bears no resemblance to the character of his own father. Kore-eda also
left home early in life.
The film focuses on but one day in the life of this Yokoyama family but what a significant day it is being the 12th anniversary of the death of the elder son Junpei who drowned trying to save the life of Yoshio, a boy now a mess of a man who himself is required to come back every year to give thanks more as a punishment inflicted on him by Toshiko than from continuing gratitude. Kyohei is a frail doctor now retired and Junpei was hoping and expected to follow in his father’s footsteps when tragedy struck. Ryota the surviving younger son is a struggling art restorer and regarded by his father as inferior to his deceased brother. Both parents, who have issues between themselves, resist the wish of Ryota’s sister to move with her family into her parents’ home to look after them. Ryota is now married and brings his wife and stepson to the anniversary reunion.
In the hands of many directors the temptation to allow the family to engage in verbal outpourings, overheated exchanges and much hand wringing as the tensions inexorably rise would have been overwhelming. Koreeda’s approach is precisely the opposite: he trains his camera to linger mainly in the middle-distance to pick up the tiny nuances which say so much. The pauses in the humorous and very naturalistic dialogue (Koreeda also wrote the screenplay), the silences between and the soundless empty rooms in their own way vividly echoing the absence of the departed son and the influence he still exerts over the family over a decade later.
It is the omnipresence of food, its preparation and consumption, which enables this family to communicate at a surface level and to get through their difficult day. However the sad fact gradually emerges that the family has never been able to lay Junpei’s death to rest and to move on. Their lives remain in a state of suspension until the death of both parents three years later. This dilemma is delicately caught by Koreeda’s watchful camera
Less becomes so much more as this quiet, observational, eloquent and contemplative film draws the viewer in and the final sequences are particularly poignant. Whilst unmistakably Japanese the themes of family discord, love and loss are universal so there was an immediate identification and engagement between the audience and the film which ultimately proved to be quite moving. “Still Walking” has been favourably compared with one of the classics of world cinema Ozu’s “Tokyo Story”. Whether this is justified is open to argument but there was no doubting the enjoyment had by another large and appreciative Keswick audience.
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