Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ****
Hirokazu Kore-eda's new family drama Still Walking - now out courtesy of Criterion - is his most beautifully accomplished work since After Life (1998), but if it also comes so close to Yasujiro Ozu territory -- especially the themes of Tokyo Story (1953) -- that it ends up paling a bit in comparison. Still, it's a lovely work.
Ryo (Hiroshi Abe) is an unemployed art restorer who has married a widow with a young son. Upon the anniversary of his older brother's death, he returns home for an annual family gathering. His grumpy father (Yoshio Harada) is a doctor who was forced to retire due to failing eyesight. His dream of one of his sons taking over his clinic has come to nothing. (Of course, the happy future of everything that could have been is projected onto the dead son.)
A daughter, Chinami (played by an actress named "You", who was the mother in Kore-eda's haunting Nobody Knows), also arrives, and announces her intention to move in with her mother and father. Surprisingly, the mother, Toshiko (Kirin Kiki), isn't all that thrilled by this plan.
That's the basic setup, and the rest of the movie, which takes place over about 24 hours, shows the small-scale emotional battles between the various family members, very often while eating (the old man only comes out of his office for meals). Some characters have power that can never be transcended, and others learn new ways to break through.
Kore-eda skillfully and pleasingly uses still camerawork with many unbroken shots, arranging and keeping the various players on the same playing field. Still Walking's screenplay (also by the director) employs a few simplistic, art-house movie gimmicks (a yellow butterfly) to bring things to a neat conclusion, but the presentation of these elements is never less than patient, tranquil and thoughtful.
The Criterion Collection bestowed upon this movie a gorgeous DVD and Blu-ray release. Extras include interviews with director Kore-eda and talented cinematographer Yutaka Yamazaki, a documentary on the making of the film, and a trailer. The liner notes booklet includes an essay by critic Dennis Lim, plus recipes from the movie!
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