Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Still Walking (Hirokazu Koreeda)- 2008

What feels like many years ago, and at this point ten plus years ago is many years ago, I saw a beautiful film called After Life. I was in high school and just starting to discover my love of the independent film, the foreign film, the art house film. I would spend free time on websites listing movie releases and seek out the more obscure and interesting titles. At the time, these types of films were very much an escape. My friends and family were more concerned with Hollywood releases and big budget films. I felt a little on the outside. To be honest, I was perfectly content in such a place. After Life took a bit of work to get my hands on. It wasn't until it was released on VHS that I was able to get a copy through the public library. The film was unique in that it dealt with a group of people working in a warehouse. They were in charge of helping the newly deceased pick the film of their life. Only so many memories could be taken to the after life, and it was the job of a small group of people to help the dead stay focused. To help them understand the significance of what they take with them.

When I discovered the Criterion Collection would be releasing Still Walking in early February, I was intrigued to find out information about a fairly recent film release that I had never heard about. Was very excited to discover the director, Hirokazu Koreeda, was the same director as After Life. I was even more excited to discover Still Walking was available on Netflix for instant viewing. So I set out to watch it immediately.

Still Walking is a family drama. A day in the life of a family. The story is about the connections and the disconnections of the modern family in a traditional culture. The family gathers every year, fifteen years and counting, for a dinner to memorialize the death of the eldest son. A drowning incident in which the eldest son saved a drowning victim but lost his own life is all we're ever told of the incident. There is much mystery and unsaid in the film. This never hurts the pace or the story. The simplicity and silence really adds to the emotional levels. Creates the tip-toeing feeling we are so familiar with within our own families.

It would be very easy to compare this film to the films of the great director Yasujiro Ozu. Ozu's greatest film (and one of my ten favorite films) is Tokyo Story. One could easily find many patterns and similarities between Tokyo Story and Still Walking. But, that doesn't really give enough credit to the modernity of Still Walking. And, it makes one think Still Walking lacks originality. I feel this isn't the case. Only that Koreeda has based the film in such a traditional framework through the use of the aged parents as a means to anchor so much of the family traditions in the past.

To use a cliche used too often for films: Still Walking peels away slowly and carefully like an onion. Because Koreeda is so exact and careful, the film never slices right into the story. This leaves the audience without a need to cry. There is a constant sense of sadness and hurt. A feeling of so much loss and regret. But, the story reveals layer by slow layer. Never once does Koreeda force the audience to confront any one pained incident for too long or to examine any motives too closely. This isn't to say the film lacks depth. Still Walking may be one of the most deeply motivated films on the history of a single family in a very similar fashion as Summer Hours and Yi-Yi.

Still Walking deals with all those things we expect of ourselves. What our parents expected of us. What is still to be expected. The film deals with death, past and future. How do we try to connect with those we know we're going to lose? Why do we allow ourselves to become so disconnected in the first place? How do we forgive those who have wronged us? Who we've wronged? Koreeda is never preachy, pushy, or insensitive. Every conversation and silent interaction between the family members is handled so realistically. The film may feel slow to some, but it would be unfair to judge the film on its pace. The film is meant to be a slow process of understanding how a family grows into their current state of disrepair.


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