Fri, Apr 03, 2009 - Page 16 News List

FILM REVIEW: Life, death, love and the family

Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda crafts a beautiful story of a family brought together by the memory of a deceased son

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

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Family reunions are fruitful material for meditations on life, death and love, and Still Walking (Aruitemo Aruitemo) follows in this long and well-worn tradition.

A simple story of a family reunion to commemorate the death of an older brother, the narrative brings together two aging parents and a brother and a sister, each with their own families. The action takes place in the family home. The setup could not be simpler, but from these simple ingredients, director Hirokazu Kore-eda has created a work of such nuance and depth that the first thing you want to do on leaving the cinema is to walk right back in and watch it all over again.

The film opens with a scene of Chinami (You) helping her mother Toshiko (Kirin Kiki) in the kitchen grating radishes for a family meal. Their inconsequential chatter opens up a window that overlooks a precipice separating the two generations. As we get to know the Yokoyama family, we find each of them inhabiting an isolated outpost on the shifting sands of their own memories and expectations, unable, except for the briefest moments, to cross over. When contact is made, the principals don’t always realize it.

The themes of memory and abandonment, explored in Kore-eda’s earlier and more experimental work, are all there, but they have been subsumed into a conventional form that serves to reduce the background noise to a minimum, allowing his beautifully crafted yet naturalistic screenplay to shine. The family eat and talk, the undercurrents of their thoughts occasionally bubble up to the surface, revealed by a word or gesture, then sink back down again. The beauty of the film is that everything is revealed through everyday actions, from grating radishes to eating sushi. Nobody shouts, nobody cries, yet there is a pervasive sadness about the simple fact that life goes on, whatever else may happen.

FILM NOTES

STILL WALKING (ARUITEMO ARUITEMO)

DIRECTED BY: HIROKAZU KORE-EDA

STARRING:

YOU (CHINAMI KATAOKA), HIROSHSHI ABE (RYOTA YOKOYAMA), YOSHSHIO HARADA (KYOHEI YOKOYAMA), RYOGA HAYASHSHI (MUTSU KATAOKA), KIRIN KIKI (TOSHSHIKO YOKOYAMA), YUI NATSUKAWA (YUKARI YOKOYAMA), HOTARU NOMOTO (SATSUKI KATAOKA)

LANGUAGE:IN JAPANESE WITH CHINESE SUBTITLES

RUNNING TIME: 114 MINUTES

TAIWAN RELEASE: TODAY


The single set piece within the drama is the arrival of an awkward young man to pay his respects to Junpei, the Yokoyama’s eldest son. In saving this young man, Junpei lost his life, and Toshiko never wants him to forget it. He sits uncomfortably as he is served with tea and cakes, each courtesy an indictment against his physical and living presence. Toshiko, brilliantly played by Kiki Kirin, admits that she feels obliged to put him through this ordeal every year, as some small compensation for her loss. Her bitterness is spine-tingling, for a brief second opening up a peephole into the darkness behind her simpering smiles and the elaborate courtesy of a Japanese matron.

Toshiko’s second son, Ryota, visits with his new wife, Yukari (Yui Natsukawa), a widow with a young son. Ryota is prepared for a day of bickering with his father about his career and his marriage. Yukari puts her best face on, not helped by her husband’s sullen refusal to engage with his parents. Ryota’s father (played by Yoshio Harada), a retired doctor missing the professional heyday of his past and endlessly comparing the son he still has with the one he lost, is too real a person to completely lose the viewer’s sympathy.

There is a pervasive humor that is both muted and rather dark in Still Walking, but Kore-eda steers clear of comedy just as assiduously as he keeps away from melodrama. The director’s view of life is one filled with what might be described as a life-affirming sorrow. He delights in the imperfect goodness of his characters and acknowledges their frailties without ever laughing at them. Each small step toward understanding one another is a major triumph, though these victories are transitory, quickly overtaken by life’s onward flow.

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