Still Walking (IFC Films, NR)

film_still-walking_sm.gifAfter a successful trot around the film festival circuit, Still Walking further proves what a confident and reliable director Kore-eda has become.

 

 

 

 

 

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One of the most consistently great and relatively little-known international directors working today is Japan’s Kore-eda Hirokazu. Although he has some films that have never been brought into the American market, those of his that have have been uniformly brilliant: 1995’s Maborosi, 1998’s After Life, 2004’s Nobody Knows. His Hana, from 2006, left something to be desired, but given the near masterpiece-level of his other three films I’ve seen, I’m willing to forgive him that one.

After a successful trot around the film festival circuit, Still Walking further proves what a confident and reliable director Kore-eda has become. Following a trend of recent works of fiction that have grown families reuniting under one roof for a period of time (A Christmas Tale, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Corrections, Bottomless Belly Button, and others), Still Walking concerns the Yokoyama family, whose distinguishing qualities include a (now-retired) doctor father Kyohei (Yoshio Harada), and an oldest son, Junpei, who drowned accidentally 15 years prior to the events of the film. The remaining children, Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) and Chinami (You, the mother from Nobody Knows), find it something of a chore to visit Kyohei and their mother Toshiko (Kirin Kiki), given that they have jobs and families of their own. Ryota is our ostensible main character, given that a lot of the film concerns the fact that he can never seem to meet up to the standards left by Junpei in his parents’ eyes.

Where After Life dealt very eloquently with the subject of death and Nobody Knows focused on the family mechanic and the limits of responsibility, Still Life finds a way to combine these elements in its examination of a perfectly functional family that has been subtly pulled apart by death. There isn’t a huge narrative arc here; it’s more of a film that tries to examine the nuances of behavior, be it through actions, thoughts, emotions, or treatment of others. Amazingly, it also does a great job of pulling you into its simple story: intellectual stimulation as escapism, in a way.

Films from Asia seem to take a while to find their way into American theatrical runs. Still Life was released in Japan in the middle of 2008 and is only just now being released here (and that’s relatively soon for an Asian film, really), and Kore-eda already has a newer film, Air Doll, which has been released in Japan since then and is now finding its way around film festivals (it’s playing the Chicago International Film Festival this weekend, for example). Given Hirokazu’s track record, it honestly doesn’t seem unreasonable to drive up there to see it, given that it’ll probably be a year or two before I have the chance again. It’s a pretty safe bet at this point that it’ll be worth the drive. | Pete Timmermann

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