Film Review: Still Walking

BOTTOM LINE: A subtly nuanced family drama that resonates long after its hushed ending.

Pusan International Film Festival
A Window on Asian Cinema


TOKYO -- "Still Walking" unfolds almost in real time as three generations gather for a weekend. The course of the day is so uneventful and the narration so deceptively simple that it feels as cozy as flipping through a family album. Only discerning cinephiles could tell it is the result of a flawless script.

When "Nobody Knows" debuted in Cannes in 2004, director Hirokazu Kore-eda became a name everyone knows in the festival circuit. His return to home drama is a meditation on how children, or rather life, can never live up to expectations. The unostentatious artistry is reminiscent of Ozu's "Tokyo Story," but Kore-eda's documentary-style film language is refreshingly contemporary.

The film had its North American debut at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Sibling rivalry, an indispensable theme in family melodrama, is at the heart of "Still Walking." But how can a son compete for his parents' love and attention with a rival who is dead?

Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) brings his wife Yukari and stepson Atsushi to his parent's house for the 15th memorial ceremony of his brother Junpei. Joining him is sister Chinami and her family. Behind the conviviality, grief, regret and resentments rise and fall as softly as a whisper. Their father Kohei is a semi-retired doctor who pinned his hopes on Junpei, a medical student before his untimely death. His pride makes him feign work in his clinic instead of mingling with his family.

Kore-eda listens to his characters' inner thoughts with the attentiveness of a piano tuner, and reveals them with the lightest inferences. He makes palpable Ryota's pain every time they recall Junpei wistfully. Although Ryota now accords Kohei no respect, Yukari and Atsushi discover his childhood essay vowing to become a doctor, explaining why being an unemployed art restorer gives him a complex.

Abe, usually confined to playing blustering action heroes, displays a composure never seen before. As parents gingerly resigning themselves to old age, Yoshio Harada and Kirin Kiki inject the right degree of humor to prevent their roles from appearing pitiful.

Kore-eda maintains a serene equilibrium as the air of mortality hangs over the living even as they bask in the lazy tranquility of summer. During a stroll to the cemetery, a long tracking shot of Ryota, Yukari and Atsushi climbing steep steps turns into a visual trope for life itself.

Cast: Hiroshi Abe, Yui Natsukawa, YOU, Kirin Kiki, Yoshio Harada, Shouhei Tanaka.
Director-screenwriter-editor: Hirokazu Kore-eda.
Planning producer: Masahiro Yasuda.
Producers: Yoshihiro Kato, Hijiri Taguchi.
Director of photography: Yutaka Yamazaki.
Art directors: Toshihiro Isomi, Keiko Mitsumatsu.
Music: Gonchichi.
Costume designer: Kazuko Kurosawa.
Sales: Celluloid Dreams.
No rating, 114 minutes.
production: Engine Network/Engine Film/Bandai Visual/TV Man Union/Eisei Gekijo/Cine Qua Non.
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