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A middle-aged brother and sister and their families visit their aging
parents on the fifteenth anniversary of their brother Junpei's death
from drowning while saving another boy. Relationships between
generations are strained, however, and patriarch Kyohei (Yoshio
Harada), a former doctor, does not hide his resentment for his
surviving son Ryoto (Hiroshi Abe), an out of work art restorer.
Selected as the best film at the Toronto International Film Festival in
a poll of film critics and bloggers, Hirokazu Koreeda's Still Walking
is a family-oriented comedy/drama about generational conflict and the
consequences of loss. Unfolding in real time over a twenty-four hour
period, it has been compared to Ozu's Tokyo Story in its intimate
interchanges that accurately capture the way families relate to each
other but lacks Ozu's warmth and subtlety.
The day is spent with routine activities such as preparing meals and playing with the small children. Kyohei remains detached and hides in his office, pretending to be occupied with medical business. He only emerges to bicker with his wife (Kiki Kinn) and play with his grandson. Ryoto, who did not look forward to the reunion, is put off by his father's disdain for his profession of art restoration and his coolness toward his new wife Yukari (Yui Natsukawa). She craves acceptance for herself and her son Atsushi (Shoehi Tanaka) from a previous marriage in which her husband died. A picture of the deceased Junpei is placed in the center of the Yokoyama family house reminding Ryoto that whatever he does, he cannot measure up to Junpei, who was to be his father's heir.
He also notices that his sister Chinami (You) has no such expectations and her life with her car-salesman husband and two children seems outside of the range of family conflicts. When the boy that Junpei rescued visits the family, sneering remarks are made about his bulky frame and lack of ambition and old resentments come to the surface. After Chinami and her family leave, it is clear that Ryoto wishes he had not agreed to spend the night but conflicts seem to soften with the passage of time. Based on a novel by the director and occasioned by the death of his mother and the discussions of his childhood they had during her last days, Still Walking has a sense of naturalism and simplicity that is endearing.
Few other nations can capture the beauty of family drama with such
subtlety and grace as the Japanese can. Perhaps it is a blessed legacy
left behind by the master Yasujiro Ozu who in his lifetime made over 50
films, all of which are family dramas that often dealt with
generational gaps. Japan, more than any other nation struggles with the
problem of generational gap, being a nation that has continued to
endure conflict between the young and the old, the traditional and the
modern. Stepping into Ozu's shoes is the acclaimed director Koreeda
Hirokazu, whose films "Nobody Knows" and "After Life" has already
garnered universal praises.
"Still Walking" begins as a family reunites to commemorate the death of one of its members. With new members joining the family and old wounds resurfacing, everyone tries their best to pass the two day gathering with as little problem as possible. Sounds simple doesn't it? Well, therein lies the plain and subtle beauty of the film. From a few words exchanged between the grandfather and his new grandson to the laughter of three children as they caress a blossoming flower, these simple moments will linger in your mind with tasteful resonance long after the film.
While watching the movie, I found it hard not to be immersed by the beauty of Japanese suburbia. I could picture myself - like the characters, taking a stroll on a simmering summer day with the cool breeze in my hair as the gentle picking of guitar strings play in the background. Or perhaps eating lunch and drinking cold ice tea on tatami mats as the wind-charm tickles with the slightest vibration. "Still Walking" is a meditation on life and death that may just move you to tears...without even trying.
Still Walking is an intimate movie about a family reunion. Its
observations about family dynamics are the most true to life I have
ever seen. The movie paints the entire gamut of emotional family
experience with delicate yet powerful brush strokes but it's not a
sentimental film, nor an opportunity for actors to grandstand. It's
Japanese, so all the strong undercurrents of emotion are held in check
by equally powerful restraint (both cultural and directorial). A
brother and a sister attempting families of their own go to visit their
parents in Yokohama. The parents have lost a son and the family's
devastation hangs heavy in the air. You can actually feel it bearing
down on your shoulders from the first frame. Anybody who has ever spent
the night at the house of relatives will feel the weight of family
history that this film captures so truthfully.
The parents are engulfed by their quiet, ongoing grief and the surviving children resent all the attention given to the one who is not there anymore. The movie is surprisingly mordant, touching, cruel, sad, funny: human. The mother is this wonderful woman who cooks up a storm (I so wanted to be invited to that house). She is from an older generation, which means she has been forever in the shadow of her husband the doctor, cooking and cleaning and feeding the children, but she is not a pushover, nor a saint. She is mischievous, catty and petty, prejudiced, funny, generous and cruel at the same time. She is a marvel, and the actress who plays her is astonishing.
This movie has many emotional surprises that make the audience gasp, but they are presented with a sure, light touch, never falling into easy sentiment, never shying away from human complexity. It's a film about family, and love and duty and regret and it is stunningly beautiful.
This film by writer/director Koreeda is a triumph of simplicity. Telling the story of a family who meet annually to mark the death of oldest son Junpei at the parent's house, you're struck by how well this flows. The acting is uniformly very good and the story never lags. The best thing I found about this film is how it could have been done without a script, if the actors were given this scenario. There is bitterness, pettiness and even selfishness here, all earmarks of the subject matter. I found the stylistic similarities to Ozu films to be very touching and not a bit off putting. When I watched this film in a theater in New York, people applauded at the end. This is about as real life as it gets. Its a universal theme, not a Japanese one. My hat is off to the writer/director, its a fine film.
Its not often I return to see a film immediately to see it again, but
this is a film which demands it. This is a masterly film by Koreeda
following an ordinary middle class Japanese family has they have an
annual reunion to commemorate the older brother who died rescuing a boy
from drowning. In its slow, gentle, poetic way, this film brings us
into the heart of the family so well you feel it is your own - indeed,
the characters are so real, so richly portrayed, that you almost come
to believe you know them as well as your own family.
A simple plot précis doesn't do justice to what this film is about. It shines a light into those repressed areas of resentment, sentimentality, nostalgia, guilt and desire that are so often hidden behind a facade of politeness. Koreeda is too subtle a director to have any big blow ups or surprises - he reveals his characters in a gentle manner as detail is laid upon detail. When the ending comes it is not a surprise, but it is still profoundly moving and thought provoking. This is a film that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema.
A lot has been made about the films debt to Ozu. I think this is very overstated - although there are one or two stylistic nods to Ozu at the beginning, Koreeda is a very different type of film maker. Unlike Ozu he uses tiny surreal moments of beauty to contrast with the realism of the rest of the film. His use of editing and camera work is far less formal and rigorous - instead he allows the camera to follow the characters, revealing the layers of the home. And most importantly, while Ozu emphasised the death of the traditional Japanese family and considered it with sad resignation, Koreeda sees families as all alike, stuck in a series of inescapable cycles. In many respects this film reminded me more of some of Naruse's classic films than Ozu.
The cast is uniformly excellent, with Kiki Kirin utterly wonderful as the grandmother. The only very small quibble I have with the casting is that Koreeda succumbed somewhat to casting some characters who are a little too elegant and good looking for the 'normal' people they portray. Hiroshi Abe and Yui Natsukata are maybe a little too good looking to be convincing as the less than 100% welcome family members. But that is a very minor criticism of what is a terrific ensemble piece.
I think this film is one of the finest of the year and may well come to be seen as a classic. It can certainly sit comfortably with any of the great films of Japans golden era.
Koreeda's Aruite Mo Aruite Mo is a consideration of family that is part
homage, part vivisection. The comparisons to Ozu that have been made
are fitting, the film a return to the Golden Age of Japanese
film-making when a distinctly Japanese setting was employed to convey
universal themes. The domestic setting, limited time-frame, and even
knee-high camera placement all deliberately connote Ozu, but not so
much to bow before him, as to re-invent him, to update or even evolve
the form. Koreeda seems to have set out less to pay his respects to
Ozu, as to surpass him.
Ryota brings his new wife and stepson home to to meet his family on the anniversary of his older brother Junpei's passing. The cycle of pettiness, accusation, pouting and recrimination soon kicks in, familiar theatre of family that will have people recalling Thanksgiving get-togethers, Hogmanany parties, Christmas fall-outs... The joy is in the details of Koreeda's observations, and the forceful animation of them by the cast. From the opening conversation between mother and daughter, playful banter on lessons never learned, wisdom refused, the tone of interdependence with tense undercurrents is set.
YOU as Chinami is more straightforward than her mis-maternal role in Nobody Knows, angling to move in with her parents by talking to her mother as a type, rather than as a person. Kirin Kiki is best known these days here in Japan for her comic outing in the Fuji film commercials. She excels there and here, sweet and doddering at one point, and yet scary, almost vicious at others, as when she reveals the depth of her loathing for Yoshio, the boy-now-man whom her son Junpei died saving from drowning. Her cool gaze upon her grandchildren is evidence of Koreeda's consummate ease in avoiding sentimentality. Hiroshi Abe holds up his end more than competently as the brooding Ryota. Recently 're-structured', he finds his conflicting roles as failed breadwinner, failed heir, struggling stepfather and less-favoured son all brought to salience in this one event. He is too proud to admit his jobless status, but not man enough to help his wife carry the bags. He reacts just as his father reacts to the shock of retirement, or his mother reacts to facing life's disappointments - by lashing out. He is a grown man in gaudy cheap pajamas bought by his mum. He competes with not one ghost, but two - his brother, and his wife's first husband. Who can shine in comparison with martyrs?
Families can be joyous and awful, and Koreeda captures that to a tee. The film seems to go on a beat too long, past a line on the bus that seems the natural ending, but then the final narration (reminiscent of Twilight Samurai) and graveside scene pull it all together poignantly. Granddad thinks they will be back at New Year - they won't. Chinami thinks her mother wants them to move in - she doesn't. Yoshio thinks he is welcome every year - he isn't. Families are destined to misunderstand each other. And yet the honouring of Junpei, the father cracking water-melons with his children, Granddad reaching out to his step-grandson - the succour of family is also portrayed here.
No one does bitter-sweet and elegiac quite like Koreeda, and in Aruite Mo Aruite Mo he achieves the quintessential mix that he was arguably striving for in After Life and Maboroshi. This is a film both comforting and challenging, that may just turn out to be Koreeda's masterpiece.
I very much enjoyed Nobody Knows (Dare Mo Shiranai) and After Life
(Wonderful Life) immensely and found another good and engaging movie
with Still Walking. Kore Eda seems to be in a small group of directors
who use minimal music and other traditional movie elements in order to
convey the story to the viewer. Just as talking in a low voice will
elicit the heightened command of a listener, so too does Kore Eda use
subtle dialogue and action to focus the viewers attention to what's
I can totally relate to the family in Still Walking because they come across as anyone's family. Literally. I felt as though I could have been watching my own family and not some Japanese family to whom I could not relate. All the elements are there from the big-city adult children coming to visit their small-town parents with their children en tow. The interplay between the fast pace of urban life and slow pace of rural life meet somewhere in the middle. Throughout, I felt as I usually do in a Kore Eda movie: a silent and invisible observer.
The premise of the movie is that the family gathers together once a year on the anniversary of the death of the eldest son who we learn had drowned saving the life of another person who himself was attempting to commit suicide by drowning in the sea. As you may know, in Japanese society, if you save the life of someone who wishes to commit suicide, you effectively are responsible for their life going forward. In this case, the person doing the saving, the eldest son, had died in the process. So we see the person who he saved return year after year to be reminded in an indebted but somewhat cruel manner that he is alive and that he will be, for the rest of the parent's of deceased lives, be required to suffer the (cultural) humility of "being alive" while their son is dead.
We also see the typical social dilemma of what to do as ones aging parents and additional interplay between the surviving son and his new, but widowed, wife and her child. We've seen the transaction a million times in other movies: mother in law has her comments and opinions, wife complains to the husband about her and her son's treatment, son has to either stand up to the parents or find some middle ground.
All in all, it's well played out and I was very pleased by this film. It's an amalgam of growth, change, sacrifice, forgiveness, and the road we all have to travel as we get older or if we have children ourselves. Oddly though, the film's title doesn't make sense until near the end of the movie.
"Still Walking" aka "Aruitemo Aruitemo" Yet another superb delivery
from Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda who gave us "Nobody Knows" in
2004. It's like we're eavesdropping on a private family reunion event.
Central to the story is from the viewpoint of the second son, Ryota at
age 40, going home to his parents' house via public transport with his
new wife, a widow, and her 10 year old son from previous marriage. Yes,
he doesn't own a car like his sister and brother in law. He's actually
wary about hiding the fact that he doesn't have a substantial job and
asks his wife not to breathe a word at the family occasion. His parents
will be disappointed, especially his father who has counted on the
second son to take on the family medical clinic business and be a
doctor rather than any other trade - since the eldest died 15 years
ago. Ryota has 'imprisoned' himself by these expectations which he is
unable to, and frankly does not want to, fulfill. Underneath the
pleasant bantering with his mother, we can tell he is struggling to
find himself, make peace with himself and go on with his life.
Writer-director-editor Koreeda's passion provided us a close look (ever so casually, unhurried at its own pace so we get to be familiarized with each member of the family) on how a Japanese family might function on such a reunion gathering. We are put at ease watching mother and daughter preparing food in the kitchen, the whole family huddled around the meal table, the spontaneous exchanges. By and by, subtle clues are displayed and we may see the other side to each person's personality and hidden desires. Then there are pause moments to relish some family coziness or mother-son cordial exchanges. The storyline is far from 'flat' at its leisurely pace: "familiarity breeds contempt" or "absence makes the heart grows fonder" - either could be true. As the evening goes on, more aspects surface - be it mother, father, son, daughter in law, or grandson - we share their sentiments, satisfied or empathized.
"Still Walking" is a rich film. We are fortunate to experience it with so many levels rendered to us. I appreciate the reverence paid to the traditional family ritual of honoring the dead. Yes, a chance for a family outing, seeing Ryota and his 'new' family - wife and stepson - together is encouraging. The 'yellow butterflies' folklore is heartening.
The film also brings to mind quotes from Louise L. Hay's book, "Heart Thoughts - A Treasury of Inner Wisdom" on forgiveness (page 90): "We do not have to know how to forgive. All we have to do is be willing to forgive. The Universe will take care of the how." And on happiness (page 94): "Happiness is feeling good about yourself."
The theme music by Gonchichi is just right for the mood and state of inner peace - its guitar playing chords and melodic strains is quietly serene. What a soothing melody, giving the film a resigned, calming, happy with himself again leisurely tempo - simply apt to the story of "Still Walking." Visit the official site 'www.aruitemo.com' and you can listen to the music and check out 'Director's Statement' with Koreeda talking about his film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Still Walking', the stunning new film from Japanese director Hirokazu
Koreeda, begins with a premise so stale and overused that to read a
plot synopsis of the movie is discouraging enough to prevent you from
seeing it. A family reuniting for the anniversary of a loved one's
death is nothing new in the world of cinema, and American TV movies
have been churning out cloying, sickeningly saccharine variations on it
for the past fifty years. Yet here is a film so refreshing and truthful
that it restores your faith (almost completely) in the domestic drama.
The similarities to Ozu are obvious; had this been directed by him, it might stand quite comfortably alongside his masterpieces. The comparisons that have been made between the great Japanese director and Koreeda are fully deserved. Like Ozu, he makes extensive and inventive use of a stationary camera, always arranging his shots to perfection: often, after a moment of discussion or 'drama', we are taken away from the characters and the camera lingers, providing a seemingly superfluous shot. This was an Ozu trademark, and it is used with reverence here; at times the camera focuses on seemingly trivial things, such as broken bath tiles or a flower in a glass, pale in the twilight. It allows us to digest what we have seen. The detail in his shots is quietly breathtaking: Koreeda has an eye for family meals and rituals in particular, and these scenes are handled masterfully.
The film follows Ryota, his wife and his stepson as they return to his parents' home on the anniversary of his elder brother Junpei's death. It is gradually revealed that he was drowned while rescuing a young boy, now grown older. In Ozu's 'Tokyo Story', it was the parents who were the caring couple becoming victims of their children's' greed and selfishness in their old age; here, it is the parents who bicker, both with themselves and their children, making petty insinuations due to their outdated ideals and the tragedy they have suffered; it is their living children who suffer as a result. Yet there are no earth shattering arguments among smashed crockery, and very rarely a raised voice; by the time we meet these people, the arguments are past, only to be replaced by stifled politeness and bitter mutterings. They have settled into a routine; it is at once their refuge and their weapon, their greatest ailment but their only means of communication. If it weren't for the fact that it was Ryota's duty to return home each year on the anniversary of his brother's death, he might never return at all: his father quietly chastises him for never calling his mother, to which Ryota's reply is that she always complains when he does.
How wise this film is in comparison to so many of its counterparts, where oversimplified, long standing feuds are rectified in a single visit! This film is far too mature to fall into that trap. It contains layer upon layer of characterisation: we get the sense that what we are seeing is a real family, not a TV cardboard cut out. Their issues are buried deep in the past, and as Koreeda notices, it is almost always the tiny, minute details that a family argues about - often referenced briefly and indirectly. And what an abundance of these we see, some never explained; it is through these microscopic specifics that Koreeda, with delicate precision, provides insight into his characters and their lives: the fact that the old patriarch, a retired doctor, refuses to go shopping because he is too proud to be seen by his neighbours carrying a shopping bag; the fact that his wife would have preferred her son to marry a divorced woman rather that a widow. These are some of the more trivial. There are mounds to discover.
Perhaps the finest scene in the film is one in which Ryota and his mother Toshiko are talking in the kitchen together. It is nearly the end of the day and Ryota will be leaving in the morning. Earlier, in the afternoon, the boy that Junpei saved when he drowned visited to pay his respects. We learn that he does this every year, as Toshiko always invites him, and it is painful to notice the subtle ways in which Toshiko, with a sympathetic smile and polite tone, gently treats him with derision and belittles him. In the evening, Ryota and Toshika are making small talk about a sumo wrestler. The way in which that small talk gradually leads to Toshiko's painful admission of why she invites the boy every year is so subtle it is almost indiscernible; but what an honest, heart wrenching, cruel admission it is. There is no background music, and the camera, stationary, provides a close up of the side of Toshiko's face, downcast, as she speaks. It's an amazing scene.
And when the twenty four hour visit is over, very little is rectified. Meaningless promises are made, resentments still fester, they are still awkward with each other. These people are desperate, and as we begin to learn, they want desperately to reach out to each other. But it is too awkward, and the honesty it would require would be far too painful. They are distinctly human, ignoring the problems and running away. And then, of course, it's too late, and all that's left is the broken pieces and the disappointment.
What a sad, meditative film this is, handled with such astounding tenderness and compassion. But there are bittersweet moments, and even hope is to be found here! Far from being simple and cloying, this is an extraordinarily complex gem of a film, containing emotional truths and nuances that even the longest essay couldn't fully disclose. Words just can't be found to explain some things... and what a mess that fact makes of their lives!
After reading the plot, I expected 'Still Walking' to be one of those melodramatic family reunion films where the members reunite one day and resolve all their differences. Well in reality, It's much more subtle than that and actually brings out why, in real-life, reconciliation is much harder than we may expect or like it to be, even among family members. Some disagreements that you may have have with your mom or dad may be such that you will have to go against your principles/values if you want to make peace with them. These are the kinds of issues that are portrayed in this film, with beauty and emotional intensity. But there is a message of reconciliation as well because although the characters have their differences, they try their best to get through the occasion without hurting each other's feelings and at least trying to pretend as if their differences do not matter when they're together. I am starting to really like Hirokazu Koreeda's works. If you like watching films that have a strong social,family-based narrative, you should really check out Koreeda's films. In a nutshell - Is it a deeply moving film? yes. Is it a realistic portrayal of common family issues? Yes. But is it one of those "and they happily lived together ever after" films? No.
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