Film review by: Witney Seibold
Hirokazu Kore-eda made one of the best films of the ‘90s with his film “After Life.” As a filmmaker, he is only maturing, having now made a quietly devastating, Ozu-esque masterpiece called “Still Walking.”
“Still Walking” is a family drama, but it is mercifully without climaxes, confrontations, or soap opera dynamics. Like an Ozu film, all of the content rests in what people do not say. Indeed, the multiple shots of a passing train only recall Ozu’s “Tokyo Story.” Although in Ozu’s film’s, it’s often the older generation that is overwhelmed by the speed of the younger. In Hirokazu’s film, the older generation is the oppressor of the younger.
Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) is visiting his parents with his second wife (Rui Natsukawa) and stepson, to celebrate the anniversary of his brother’s death, years ago. He is not doing so well in his job, but is doing well enough to survive. He keeps his business dealing s secret from his father. This is a visit he is not looking forward to, planning to leave later in the day, rather than spend the night.
Dad (Yoshio Harada) is a retired doctor. He is a sour old man, who leaves his office when he wants to eat and punctuate the family conversation with subtle insults. He’ll also go on long walks to the local sports arena to take in a game. He wishes that both his sons had been doctors. His dead son was poised to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Mom (Kirin Kiki) is a cook, who spends most of the family visit in the kitchen, preparing treats. He is nice to her grandchildren, and mean to her children. She gives subtle hints that she wants Ryota to divorce his wife. Her squeaky-voiced daughter Chinami (You) seems to look after her, but the dynamic is not crystal clear.
The house is a vibrant and fun place, but shows signs of wear. There are cracked tiles in the bathroom. There is another character in every scene, of course: Junpei, the dead brother. Embellished by memory, and, in the parents’ minds an unattainable ideal for the other children to live up to, Junpei has become the martyr of the family.
O what a quiet, gentle, and revealing film. It is a film that deals with ancient family truths without straying into exposition, sentimental melodrama, or pedantic philosophizing. It’s natural for children to be embarrassed by their parents. It’s natural to revisit your family, and still feel the emotional scars left from so long ago. It’s natural for parents to be disappointed in their children. And what do you do in the face of all these small, emotional hurts that seem to permeate? Keep walking, I suppose.
“Still Walking” is one of the best films of the year.