Like many others, I am an Otaku horror nerd; I love everything horror, and I love everything Japan, and have for as long as I can remember. Between bouts of decapitation and and viscera I like to slow things, and if there is a people who know a thing or two about slow paced dramas, it’s the Japanese. Still Walking, even in its title, suggests a leisurely pace and features all of the poignant, emotive, and thought-provoking moments I look for to cleanse myself of the darkness which I have bore witness to.
Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, one of Japan’s most famous and respected directors of his generation, Still Walking is a ruminating drama on family, aging, life, and death. The story is set almost entirely in a single house over the course of roughly 24 hours as three generations of a family meet to commemorate the death of one of their own, fifteen years earlier. I was expecting the film to center on one character or specific set, but Koreeda avoids this and instead shows how each person present has coped over the time since the death and how their lives have been changed.
The parents of the son who died are symbolic of how Westerners would view some elements of Japanese society – they don’t show their emotions often and instead prefer to withdraw from discussions about grief and possible arguments. It is particularly the father, played by Yoshio Harada, who clearly harbors ill feelings and guilt but cannot vocalize them while his wife (Kirin Kiki) seems more keen to remember the good times. Their remaining son (Hiroshi Abe) has unresolved feelings of anger as he feels he has always been rated second best versus the brother, both when he was alive and even more now he is dead – he didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps and become a local doctor. He dreads attending these events as he doesn’t want to be there and feels his parents resent the fact that he lived when his brother died – and the drama is increased by the fact that he has married a widow (who has her own son). Naturally, this causes tension for the mother and father. On the flip side we have the sister (played by You – Ehika Yukiko and her extraordinary voice) and her husband and children who offer a comedic and neutral ground. Throughout all this the metaphor of walking and progression is prevalent – the father always walks round the town every day, even though he is getting slower and more reluctant, the mother always takes the long and brutally steep walk to her son’s grave, and the other characters continue to carry and cope with their respective burdens – what else can you do?
This isn’t the easiest film to review as I can either give more paragraphs outlining plot, yet there isn’t much to say of the plot aside from what is given above. The performances all feel genuine and the direction veers between claustrophobic and freeing when necessary – we get both interior and exterior shots of the cramped conditions the family live and talk in, and there is a visual and tonal difference between the conversations about the negative and harsh stuff versus those more pleasant, happy, or sad memories – the tense speeches usually in a car or a cramped room, and escaping or resolving those by stepping out into the world. The film doesn’t sound exciting on paper, but it does weave an unusual spell over the viewer – perhaps it’s because all of us have encountered feelings or situations like this in the past, or on a regular basis, perhaps it’s a combination of the performances, Koreeda’s skill, and how lovely the film looks. If you are familiar with the director’s work or have been looking for a place to start, if you are at all interested in Japanese film or culture, or if you simply want a break from action, gore, convoluted plots, and gritty blockbusters, give Still Walking a chance.
Have you seen Still Walking – how does it rate alongside Koreeda’s other work? Let us know in the comments!