Still Walking is a family drama that gets the family dynamic exactly right, a film that understands the ways in which unspoken resentments tend to accumulate and unresolved conflicts later harden into regrets. Unfolding over the course of a single day, the picture brings together three generations of a middle-class Japanese family under the grandparents’ roof to pay tribute to their long deceased eldest son on the anniversary of his death. As in any domestic drama, everyone’s got his issues and in the hothouse environment of the patriarchal household in which nearly the entire movie takes place, most of them come to light. The grandfather, a doctor forced to give up his practice when his eyesight started to fail, locks himself in his study, refusing to speak with his surviving son and emerging only at mealtimes. That son, an out-of-work art restorer, shows up with his new wife, a widow, and her young child, a domestic arrangement that, along with his perceived inability to live up to the example of his dead brother, puts him at some odds with his parents, even as he points out that his family situation is hardly anomalous in contemporary Japan. Meanwhile, his sister is planning on moving her own family into the house, an arrangement with which her mother is having some difficulty coming to terms.
But while these familial resentments and anxieties may come to the surface, they’re never brought to a point of crisis. Directing his own brilliantly measured screenplay, Hirokazu Kore-eda frames his characters in long, fixed takes, turning a coolly observational eye on the assembled party as they deflect rather than confront potential sources of conflict or submerge their accumulated regrets in the performance of domestic ritual: cooking, eating, bathing. But if the film’s restrained aesthetic and refusal of expected closure leads to a certain dryness in the presentation, then Kore-eda smartly portions out a few generous flourishes—like a perfectly lovely sequence in which an orange butterfly, taken by the grandmother to be the embodiment of her dead son, flutters around before landing on the picture of the deceased, and the film’s epilogue, signaled by an ellipsis of shattering abruptness, which is unusually wise about the ways in which, for all our deepest regrets, life continues heedlessly on.
Still Walking @ the Tribeca Film Festival
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.