Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Still Walking reviewed

Hirokazu Kore-eda Japan 2008

114 mins Cert U

Cast: Hiroshi Abe, Yui Natsukawa, You

Distributor: New Wave Films

Still Walking should have had a notice at the end along these lines:

“No feelings were hurt during the making of this film”.

Feelings, more precisely, family feelings and family ties are indeed the subject of Still Walking.

The opening scene, shot in a bus, introduces us directly into both this central theme and the subtleties of a family put under the microscope of the director and writer Hirokazu Kore-eda. The story line seems to be, at first, quite simple, and not entirely original: a long weekend family reunion, the parents being an elderly couple living in a crumbling house, a former clinic, located on a hill in the seaside. We are constantly reminded not only of the fact that Japan is an island, but also that families are island sin the sea of society, with shots of the sea ever present in the background. The father is a retired local doctor who uses his former treatment and consultation room as a den to retire from the waves of family life.

The apparent tranquillity of this family, epitomized in a lengthy kitchen take of mother and daughter peeling vegetables for the big family lunch, is soon disturbed by deep and stormy ripples coming from the ghost of the elder son who is not there, who cannot be there, as he died years earlier in an unspecified accident, its circumstances remaining unexplained. Usually hidden passions and resentments are awoken, tempers flare, the surface of this sea is no longer gently undulating.

However, calm returns, the calm that comes after the big waves, the last scene being of the old couple climbing back to their house, in a beautifully framed shot, after their farewell to their only surviving son – a gentle giant of a man in constant danger of banging his head in doorways - and his family.

The cinematography is impeccable, its tempo and rhythm reinforcing the nuances of the story telling. Still Walking is indeed a valuable contribution to that tradition in Japanese cinema of closely observed family and human relationships, beautifully shot and acted.

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