Tuesday, August 25, 2009

STILL WALKING: Hirokazu Kore-eda's latest crosses cultures with ease and grace

There's hardly a moment in STILL WALKING, the new movie from Japanese film-
maker Hirokazu Kore-eda (shown below), that will not resonate clearly and strongly to American movie-goers. This film -- about three generations of Japanese mixing it up at the grandparents'

home over a two-day period meant to honor the life and death of a fallen son -- is so rich in incident and feeling, and so humane in its understanding of the needs and desires of all three generations that it engulfs an audience quickly and nearly completely.

From the initial scene of cooking, with a mother and daughter exchanging a recipe, gossip and a deftly placed insult or two, all the details seem natural and right. This scenes leads into another that introduces the grandfather, and again, the details are spot-on. Exposition is expertly buried in dialog that creates character deftly, line by line (both for the speaker and the spoken about). Before we know it, we're neck-deep in the lives of everyone on view -- chuckling, wincing and feeling for them as we might our own family. Hirokazu has given us two other worthwhile films, After Life and Nobody Knows, but neither comes close to the heavy-duty identification factor embedded in this one -- for obvious reasons.

After Life deals with exactly that, and though the writer/director puts his own creative spin, alternately light-hearted and heart-breaking, on the concept, a film that takes place post-death is not going to seem a shoo-in for been there/done that. Nobody Knows, on the other hand, gives us a family of children recently abandoned by its mother, its fortunes now in the hands of the oldest boy. This is not the stuff of major identification. In Still Walking, so specific and real is each detail Horakazu presents that, while we easily identify with the family, we can also appreciate cultural differences. One example: the manner in which the grandmother treats the young man who shows up each year to commemorate the dead son.

The filmmaker skirts sentimentality in his use of the butterfly, appearing first via dialog and then twice in visual reality. Yet his agile contrast of the grandmother's old-fashioned understanding of what this means against that of her grandson's more realistic view (it's the adult son who must provide some workable middle ground) turns this situation into a means of uniting the generations by honoring the limited understanding of each. While the films of Ozu may come to mind here, there 's another recent film that makes an interesting comparison: Olivier Assayas' Summer Hours. That one's as French as this one is Japanese, but both embrace three generations of a family: life, death, change and the natural world.

There is so much to cherish in Still Walking that I hope it finds the large foreign-film audience it deserves. Opening theatrically this Friday, August 28, via IFC Films, it will play in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and the Angelika Film Center while also available On-Demand, beginning this Wednesday August 26. Check your local TV reception provider for details.

The above photos (from the film and of its writer/director)
are courtesy of Out Now! Image Gallery.


GHJ - said...

Can't wait to see this! It gets released in San Diego in two months. Nobody Knows still gets me to this day.

James van Maanen, said...

This one's a lot more "normal," which should bring in a more "mass arthouse" crowd, but it's so well-observed that I think those who go for the unique may still embrace it. But two months? That's too long to wait....

GHJ - said...

Yeah, story of my life living outside the LA/NYC movie bubble.

James van Maanen, said...

I know you're not so keen on this, Glenn, but you COULD watch it On-Demand (I think it's available in your area starting today...)