A truly “domestic” drama — in the sense that it takes place mostly inside a house — “Still Walking” is a wise little portrait of a family gathering.
Wise, but not soft. This Japanese film has a sharp way of showing how long-held resentments within a family unit can affect even the simplest exchanges.
A young man, Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) is currently out of work, a situation he would prefer to keep secret from his parents. He and his wife and stepson are visiting the folks this weekend, for an annual ritual that nobody much relishes.
It’s the anniversary of the drowning death of Ryota’s brother 15 years earlier. The dead brother was the family favorite (or at least his death made him a saint in retrospect), so Ryota must endure the usual comparisons to his departed sibling.
Ryota’s sister arrives too, with her family. But another guest, who always arrives for a meal, is a more morbid presence: the guy whom the dead brother saved in the course of drowning.
This young man, whose discomfort is palpable, is reminded that he’s only alive because of a great sacrifice.
Ryota’s father (Yoshio Harada) is dour, his mother (Kirin Kiki) wary. Family rituals of politeness and cheer are played out for a while, but soon enough the cracks begin to show.
Right about now you might be wondering where the appeal of a nervous, resentful family weekend might be. I mean, this is the reason you go away to Hawaii at Thanksgiving time, you know what I mean?
Yet “Still Walking” is a thoroughly absorbing and touching film. The director is Hirokazu Kore-eda, whose “Nobody Knows” and “After Life” were wonderfully observant, melancholy films.
“Still Walking” isn’t quite as striking as those movies, maybe because they were about more offbeat subjects. The subject here is so quiet and full of everyday issues, it doesn’t light up in quite the same way.
But get to the end, as family members tread along the sloping streets of this seaport town, and you feel you’ve traveled somewhere with these ordinary people. And that maybe their being ordinary is part of the movie’s universal message.
A wise little domestic drama from director Hirokazu Kore-eda, about an uncomfortable annual family gathering to commemorate the death of a favorite son 15 years earlier. A touching movie, even if its everyday material doesn’t light up the screen in the manner of Kore-eda’s “Nobody Knows.”
In Japanese, with English subtitles.
Rated: Not rated; probably PG for subject matter