by Allan Fish
(Japan 2008 114m) DVD1/2
Aka. Aruitemo, Aruitemo
The name of that sumo wrestler
p Yoshihiro Kato, Satoshi Kono, Hijiri Taguchi, Masahiro Yasuda d/w/story Hirokazu Kore-Eda ph Yutaka Yamazaki ed Horokazu Kore-Eda m Gonchichi art Toshihiro Isomi, Keiko Mitsumatsu
You (Chinami Kataoka), Hiroshi Abe (Ryota Yokayama), Yoshio Harada (Kyohei Yokoyama), Ryoga Hayashi (Mutsu Kataoka), Kirin Kiki (Toshiko Yokoyama), Yui Natsukawa (Yukari Yokoyama), Haruko Kato,
In an age of excess, none more so than in his native Japan, Hirokazu Kore-Eda is rather an enigma, one might even go so far as to call him an anachronism. He’s seemingly the sole torch-bearer for the form of cinema favoured by the masterful minimalists of the old days, Ozu, and Shimizu. His films are leisurely, sedate, compassionate, and centre around families, indeed relationships in general, and epitomise the very term humanist. It’s over 40 years since Ozu’s passing, and though the Japanese new wave yielded masters a-plenty (Oshima, Imamura, Teshigahara, Kobayashi, Shindo, Masumura and Hani to name but seven revolutionary samurai), Kore-Eda is the one link back to the past, and if ever a film epitomised that, it’s Still Walking.
A middle-aged brother and sister are returning separately with their respective families to the coastal town of their birth to visit their parents to commemorate the latest anniversary of a family tragedy, when their elder brother died as a child in rescuing another boy from drowning. The surviving brother, Ryota, rather than be cherished all the more by his parents after his brother’s death, has never lived up to their expectations, while his sister, Chinami, seems oblivious to the central conflicts, only being really interested in her own husband and life. When she goes early, Ryota and his wife and child stay the night as agreed, but while Ryota’s mother welcomes them, his father, Kyohei, a retired doctor, is as frosty as ever.
Resentments can be seen simmering under the surface, and we know that the film is in the past – if not long so – tense, narrated as it is by Ryoto. The catalyst for the spilling forth of the bitterness is the appearance of the now grown up boy the lost brother saved, who is rather humiliated and put down, but who feels compelled to come back every year to honour his late friend. The mother’s motives are seen to be somewhat sadistic, and yet in that it’s an accurate study of how grief can drive you to feelings of extreme bitterness, alienation and even cruelty.
Among the most telling analysis is the sense of belonging, and in some cases no longer belonging. The brother cannot wait to go back to his life, and yet cannot help but feel sadness for what they allow to go unsaid. It’s a mournful, regretful piece about our pride getting in the way of our better instincts. Ringing more often, coming home occasionally because you want to not because it’s something you have to undergo, not putting off till tomorrow what you can do today. In a nutshell, the feeling you get writing out a Christmas Card to someone on whose previous card you put “we must meet up soon” (or words to that effect) and know fine well you’ve failed to do so again.
Just as with Ozu, Kore-Eda’s cast remain an ensemble, and though Kore-Eda may not have the core actors (Sakamoto, Ryu, Hara, Sugimura) that Ozu had, he does have an uncanny knack for bringing the best out of his cast without you noticing it. Harada’s Kyohei is ironically more a descendant of Kurosawa’s beloved Takashi Shimura but he’s very much an Ozu type of actor, while Natsukawa – in the prototype Setsuko Hara role – is excellent as the barely-accepted daughter-in-law. Best of all, however, is Kinn as the indomitable mother, who is an absolute joy from the first to the last, and with an ability to steal a scene so quickly you only notice it several scenes later. Whether it’s a masterpiece is open to question, but it’s a film to be cherished either way, and sadly one that will still get overlooked by too many waiting for the next Takashi Miike.