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Still Walking

(2009) *** 1/2 Unrated
114 min. IFC Films. Director: Hirokazu Koreeda. Cast: Hiroshi Abe, Kirin Kiki, Yoshio Harada, Yui Natsukawa, Susumu Terajima.

/content/films/3955/1.jpgJapanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda reworks his feelings about the death of his mother into a powerful fiction with the affecting domestic drama Still Walking. Taking place over little more than a day in the life of a family, Kore-eda's film locates the profound in the mundane. Nothing out of the ordinary happens to the Yokoyama family on this particular day, but it's emblematic of their long-term ways of dealing with each other, and though there's a fair amount of good cheer (and lots of good eats), always hanging in the air is the spectre of death, a certainty of both past and future.

In the port city of Yokosuka, patriarch Kyohei (Yoshio Harada) rules his humble roost of traditional shoji screens and tatami mats while his wife Toshiko (Kirin Kiki) commands the kitchen. Though a stranger would be forgiven for thinking Kyohei's clinic is still open for business (he has left the sign out front to maintain his self-image), failing eyesight has forced the 72-year-old doctor to give up his beloved practice. On this particular day, a family tradition compels Kyohei and Toshiko's grown children to converge in Yokosuka. Second-born son Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) grudgingly makes the trip with his wife Yukari (Yui Natsukawa) and child Atsushi (Shohei Tanaka), while daughter Chinami (You of Kore-eda's Nobody Knows) tows her good-natured husband Nobuo (Kazuya Takahashi) and two kids. Steadily, Kore-eda reveals the cracks and complexities in the family's façade, beginning with the father's deadpan greeting of his son: "Oh, you're here."

With that, the mostly stoic Kyohei retreats to his defunct clinic, a default response to having to deal with disappointment. The father's disappointment and the mother's grief-born dysfunction flow from more than one source, but primarily have to do with the conspicuous absence of their first-born son Junpei, a dutiful and even heroic heir in whose shadow Ryo must endure. A fortysomething unemployed art restorer, Ryo isn't the doctor Kyohei wishes, and he's not married to a woman who meets with his mother's blood-tie approval (Yukari was a widow, and Atsushi is not Ryo's biological son). Kore-eda casts his unblinking eye on the pettiness of the parents—the little cruelties that have become their coping mechanisms over the years—as well as the questionable ways their children try to reposition themselves in the family.

The generational conflict constantly bubbling to the surface extends to the youngest generation through Atsushi, whose own loss makes it difficult to accept the feckless Ryo as his father, just as Toshiko can't accept him as a grandson. Young and old sift through past and present only to find that their individual hopes and family ties have mostly escaped them. "Women are so scary," Ryo half-jokes to his wife. "People are scary," she responds. "Everyone is." Kore-eda notes subtle value-shifts across the generations, but ultimately the Yokoyamas have more in common than they'd like to admit. When Ryo, at the dinner table, says, "We're only human," the words hang in the air for the characters and the audience before life goes on.

That life inevitably does go on brings out the tender side of Kore-eda. One motif is the constitutional: Kyohei takes a daily one, and later he's accompanied by Ryo and Atsushi. The appropriate title "Still Walking" is a lyrical snippet from a song that gives Toshiko a perverse pleasure to play, the '60s pop tune "Blue Light Yokohama." Toshiko's reason for playing the song is one example of the relationship between the family's weight of disappointment and insistence on survival, and later Toshiko fixates on yellow butterflies as a mythical signifier of endurance even past death. It's not all doom and gloom, of course: Kore-eda celebrates the best of his mother by cooking up her favorite recipes, and there's biting humor in the margins (particularly in the deeply ironic visit of a born-loser contemporary of Junpei). By the poignant end of Still Walking, hope floats, with the cautionary lesson of not being too late to embrace loved ones and the suggestion that the unspoken is understood.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

Street date: 2/8/2011

Distributor: Criterion Collection

Criterion celebrates a modern master with its Blu-ray special edition of Hirokazu Kore-eda's Still Walking. Struck from the original camera negative, Criterion's filmlike hi-def transfer is a beaut, with perfect contrast, true colors and striking detail and texture; this is the best PQ on the market of Kore-eda's lovely film. Audio comes in the form of a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that's never less than clear and ably mixed.

The bonus features kick off with a 2010 interview with director “Hirokazu Kore-Eda” (25:06, HD). This frank chat finds the filmmaker relaxed and in good humor as he discusses his personal inspirations for the film (including the death of his mother), his approach to getting the film just right (partly in terms of dynamic visualization with a limited setting), and his feelings about the finished product (including an admission that he would tweak the ending).

The 2010 interview “Yutaka Yamazaki” (13:14, HD) allows Kore-eda's cinematographer to go on the record about the approaches to and process of making the film; he's also the cameraman for these two interviews!

“Making Still Walking (28:32, HD) is a terrific behind-the-scenes doc with a wealth of set footage and interviews with cast and crew, including Kore-eda.

Last up is the film's “Trailer” (2:00, HD).

Criterion's twenty-page color booklet includes credits, tech specs, film critic Dennis Lim's essay "A Death in the Family," and recipes (by Kore-eda's mother) for the food prepared in the film.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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