Still Walking (Japan; 114 min.)

directed by: Hirokazu Koreeda
starring: Hiroshi Abe; Yui Natsukawa; You; Kazuya Takahashi; Shohei Tanaka; Kirin Kiki; Yoshio Harada
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Jason says: "Among my moviegoing friends, I have gained a not-undeserved reputation for lacking patience with French dysfunctional family dramas.  I contend that this is a bit unfair; while I did, in fact, bang my head against the back of my seat during the likes of A CHRISTMAS TALE and THE SECRET OF THE GRAIN while muttering my wishes that the characters do something, it has nothing to do with the subtitles.  I do the same thing when watching English-language mumblecore, after all.  These friends naturally assumed I hated STILL WALKING, but that's not the case.  I rather enjoyed it.

"Why is this?  The setting, perhaps.  Where watching American or French people stew in their own resentment just frustrates me, as I have too clear an idea of how I would not put up with that sort of situation (at least in my mind), Japanese culture is just different enough that it excites my curiosity.  Yokohama is also a neat-looking city, as photographed by Yutaka Yamasaki.  Yet I think the biggest difference is something else - I don't get the sense that most of the characters in STILL WALKING have surrendered to their issues; family relationships are tricky, but not a trap.

"The family here is the Yokoyamas.  Patriarch Kyohei (Yoshio Harada) is a retired doctor in his late sixties.  As the film starts, his wife Toshiko (Kirin Kiki) is preparing food with their daughter Chinami (the singly-named You) while Kyohei stays in his office, pretending to attend to patient records despite his clinic being closed.  Chinami's husband Nobuo (Kazuya Takahashi) soon arrives with their children Satsuki and Mutsu.  Also on the way is second son Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), along with wife Yukari (Yui Natsukawa) and stepson Atsushi (Shohei Tanaka).  First son Junpei died a twelve years ago, rescuing a floundering swimmer, and the family is gathering to mark the anniversery.  There are, of course, tensions lurking between the Yokoyamas.  The house shrine features a photograph of Junpei in his lab coat, highlighting Kyohei's disappointment that Ryota did not also follow in his footsteps and inherit the clinic, instead choosing a career in art restoration.  There's prejeudice against marrying a widow, and somewhat self-righteous debate among the other family members over whether or not Ryota and Yukari having children of their own would be a good idea.

"Writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda does a fine job in not inflating these conflicts into melodrama.  Instead, he does an excellent job of showing us how the two characters who are the most obviously at odds, Ryota and Kyohei, perhaps love each other the most - or at least want to.  Similarly, for as friendly as Toshiko and Chinami appear, their relationship doesn't have nearly the same depth of feeling as the father and son.  He establishes a number of parallel situations of people wanting acceptance and approval - Ryota would like to please his father and his stepson, Yukari hopes the Yokoyamas will look past the stigma of her being 'used,' especially considering how casually Junpei's absent widow is dismissed - but doesn't force the similarities upon us.

"That's not to say the movie lacks drama - Koreeda just saves it for a handful of gut punches at the end.  Up until that point, we see a family still devastated by tragedy that may not be handling it well, but is trying their best, even if that frequently means giving each other space.  Koreeda then reveals something toxic which causes us to review a few scenes, and maybe not change our minds, but gain some appreciation for how well those scenes had been played.

"The cast is great.  Hiroshi Abe is understated but sincere as a man in his forties still somewhat cowed by his father, always trying to do right by everyone.  Yui Natsukawa gets across Yukari's need to be accepted without making the character look weak, and Shohei Tanaka does well as the kid who is not knowingly so in need of a family (Ryoga Hayashi and Hotaru Nomoto are great fun as the other kids).  I was less fond of You.  Part of that may be carryover from Koreeda's NOBODY KNOWS, there's something about her voice that made her seem perfect for the irresponsible mother in that movie but grates in this one, where she's supposed to be smarter than that child-woman.  On the other hand, I can't say enough good things about Yoshio Harada and Kirin Kiki, who do such a fabulous job of embodying the generational difference present in all families (magnified by traditional Japanese stoicism) that it's not unti the end that we realize they've been wearing their hearts on their sleeves the whole time, and we just didn't know how to read it.

"Does a great deal happen in this movie?  No, not really - it's (mostly) one day, and the revelations at the end don't change much (and aren't really worth the word).  It's told with a deft touch, though, and if it isn't optimistic, it's at least not generally cynical. 4 cats

"Seen 25 April 2009 at the Somerville Theater #5 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)"

Michael says: "I was thrilled that the IFFB screened Hirokazu Kore-eda’s STILL WALKING this year, and even happier that Chlotrudis was its co-presenter.  One of my favorite filmmakers, Kore-eda is responsible for (among other titles) NOBODY KNOWS, DISTANCE and the sublime AFTER LIFE.  His latest work is reminiscent of the work of the great Japanese filmmaker, Yasujiro Ozu.  I’ve only seen one Ozu film, the lovely TOKYO STORY, but even from just a single film, I can see how Kore-eda has so exquisitely captured the magical interactions between families in every day life. 

"Over the course of a single summer day, we watch a family gathering to honor the death of the eldest son fifteen years earlier.  Forty-year-old Ryota is a disappointment in his father’s eyes, failing to follow in his footsteps to become a doctor.  Instead he restores works of art and has recently married a widow with a young son.  His sister Chinami is trying to arrange to move into her parents home with her family in order to help them out as they grow too old to live on their own, but her mother doesn’t want her there.  Throughout the day the family bickers around the dinner table as the story slowly unfolds.  The banter is so natural and reminiscent of many family gatherings in many cultures, from the prominence of food to the odd family quirks being shared with the in-laws.  While the underlying catalyst for the gathering is somber, and the relationships strained, Kore-eda fills this delightful film with such humor that it feels like watching life unfold on a movie screen. 

"The film is gorgeously shot capturing the golden light of a mid-summer’s day; the frenetic activity of family preparing and eating a meal, and a beautiful, slow journey up and down and up again on the stairs assisting navigation in this hilly, coastal town.  The actors are all strong, with the bubbly You able to show off her comedic chops after earning our scorn as the mother who abandons her children in NOBODY KNOWS.  I’m also thrilled to report that this film won the Audience Award at the IFFB.  See it when it gets released! 5 cats"

Diane says: "What a pleasure to sink into a long, slow film by Hirokazu Koreeda
(director of one of my all-time faves, AFTERLIFE). Jay and Michael have already summed it up well, this day in the life of a family with much to bring them together and pull them apart. Unlike Jay, I thought actress You was great in this. Noms for ensemble, cinematography, screenplay, director. 4 cats."
Bruce says: "The inspiration for STILL WALKING, admittedly writer/director/editor Hirokazu Kore-eda’s most personal film, came from his mother’s death in 2005.  In his words, 'Those annoying things that I greeted with ambivalence – the bickering, broken promises and misunderstandings – now seem precious.'  This poetic yet achingly realistic film about family tensions surrounding hopeless expectations and bitter disappointments seems inspired by Ozu.  Not so, claims Kore-eda.  It is closer to a Mikio Naruse film, one about loveable, sloppy losers.  'No one in my family would pass an audition for an Ozu film,' claims the director.  Luckily, Kore-eda found an excellent ensemble of actors to create a pitch perfect film from a first-rate script. 

"Returning to his parent’s home for an overnight stay, Ryo (Hiroshi Abe) and his wife (Yui Natsukawa) arrive with her son Atsushi (Shohei Tanaka), from a previous marriage. Relations are strained.  Ryo’s mother  Toshiko (Kirin Kiki) makes a superficial fuss over food; his recently retired father Shohei (Yoshio Harada) acts indifferent one moment and contentious the next.  'I refuse to say I’m between jobs – not to him.' Ryo tell his wife.  Ryo’s ditsy sister Chinami (You) arrives shortly after with her husband and two children.  The source of Ryo’s uneasiness is vague.  Finally the root of the problem emerges.  Ryo is revisiting the pain of not being the favorite child.  That honor goes to his deceased brother Junpei whose death the family has gathered together to remember.   Junpei was following his father’s footsteps, studying to be a doctor, when he rescued a drowning boy from the sea.  The boy survived but Junpei died several days later.   

"Shohei and Toshiko niggle and nag, which one concludes has been the modus operandi of their entire marriage.  But they spread their tension and dissatisfaction all too easily.  To his grandchildren Shonei says,   'It was my hard work that built this house.  Why do you call it Grandma’s house?'  Toshiko harbors great resentment about her husband’s retirement and disengagement with life.  Other resentments linger.  'He was so busy he couldn’t be here when his son was dying.'  The parents invite the boy whose life Junpei saved to dinner.  He is unattractive, unemployed and lacking in social graces, a sad reminder for everyone.

"Ryo walks to the cemetery with his mother who ungratefully says, 'I always dreamed that my sons would take me shopping in their cars,' as though her dreams had become disappointments.  Later Ryo walks with his father to the seashore, the scene of the rescue.  They stand together in silence.  The film ends with another trip several years later to remind us that families are frequently flawed, never what we would have chosen for ourselves, yet all we have.  That alone is something to cherish.  5 cats  

(STILL WALKING screened at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival, Kore-eda’s sixth consecutive feature film to be screened in Toronto.)

Thom says: "You’ll all remember Hirokazu Koreeda’s good 1998 film AFTER LIFE and this offering is very good indeed. This gentle, lovely film takes place in a family setting. A brother & sister with hubbies and children return to their parent’s home to commemorate the death of their brother who drowned trying to save a young boy 15 years ago. The tragedy still hangs heavy on the existing family and bearing the brunt of their feelings is the living son who hasn’t lived up to his father’s expectations by not becoming a doctor. He’s married an agreeable widow who has a son but the wife & stepson are looked down upon by the older parents, especially because the son & his wife have yet to have had a child together. As in most memorable Japanese dramas the actors are especially memorable in their ensemble work. So many scenes to love here: I loved the older mother always cooking to provide an endless stream of food to be eaten. There is a sad & mordant feeling throughout the film that is quite real and touching. One especially difficult scene is when the saved boy from all those years ago attends a family meal where he is cruelly questioned by the family. While the film is not heavily dramatic the strength and truth of the films observations are unforgettable. 4 1/2 cats"