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April 27, 2010 | by  | in Arts Film | [ssba]

Still Walking

The classics of Japanese cinematic drama are often films which examine the intricacies of relationships between family members. Still Walking firmly establishes itself firmly in this tradition of Japanese Cinema and is among the best studies of family relations ever committed to film.

Still Walking follows Ryota (Ryu), a 40-year-old Japanese man who brings his new wife and her son (from her first marriage) to visit his parents Atsushi and Kyohei. They both resent Ryu, they resent him for taking a second wife, for not becoming a doctor, they resent that he is not his deceased older brother. This is not a happy family. The film examines how Ryu navigates these stormy family relations over a 24-hour period. Hirokazu masterfully builds the tension without manipulating the viewer through subtle gestures and looks. The confrontations between the family are thus a surprise, but like in life, they only result in people getting angry. Nothing changes. This results in a film full of melancholy and sadness but never becomes self-indulgent.

A strong script and powerful performances keep Still Walking from ever becoming boring. The dialogue between the family is so natural (even on the subtitles) that it often feels like we are observing real people. The characters from the embittered Atsushi (played brilliantly by Harada Yoshio) to Nobou, Ryota’s adopted son who is treated ever so slightly differently by the family. The entire cast does a fantastic job, but Abe Hiroshi who plays Ryota stands out. He is the heart of the film, showing the frustrations and heartbreak returning home can bring.

Cinematographer Yutaka Yamazaki constructs beautiful tableaux with a camera that remains stationery for much of the film. The long takes and low angle shots make this very different to Western dramas and call to mind Yasurio Ozu’s Tokyo Story. Both in form and content, Still Walking serves as an echo of Tokyo Story, showing Japan 50 years on.

As Japanese culture is based on deference and tradition, the subtitling and reception of Still Walking by Western audiences loses something in translation, but it is still a powerful drama. Still Walking will probably be too slow for most, but those who persevere will be rewarded with a delicate and heartbreakingly accurate portrayal of the frustrations of returning home.

Directed by Kore-eda Hirokazu


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