Buried family traumas lie at the heavy hearts of many recent American dramas, films like Rachel Getting Married, Ballast, even The Wrestler. Japan, it must be said, has long made this subgenre a specialty. The great Yasujiro Ozu drew us intimately into generational separation—even down to the ground with his low camera positions—in masterpieces like Tokyo Story. Akira Kurosawa, better known for his samurai epics, explored regret in the devastating Ikiru, while Kenji Mizoguchi still deserves wider acclaim as the grief expert behind The Life of Oharu and Sansho the Bailiff.
Still Walking, from 47-year-old writer-director Hirozaku Kore-eda, almost certainly belongs to these ranks—we are in the presence of a new classic. Strong words, indeed, and merited: To submit to the quiet tensions of the modern-day Yokoyama clan, an extended family haunted by the memory of a departed son, is to experience moviemaking of a rare emotional subtlety. These characters do not weep for Junpei on the 12th anniversary of his death. Grown-up brother Ryota (Abe), an art restorer, brings home his new bride and feelings of inadequacy; his ten-year-old stepchild wanders the family house. Sister Chinami (the monomonikered You, of Kore-eda’s Nobody Knows) happily shreds radishes in the kitchen.
The title in the film’s original language captures the continuum better: Even If You Walk and Walk. Kore-eda limits his tale to a single 24-hour period, but we feel we know these people’s resiliency. Paying his respects, too, is the person Junpei saved from drowning, a sweaty mess of a man. There is still bitterness in the look he gets from the mother, Toshiko (Kiki, magnificent). Her son was better, and her soft sarcasm speaks volumes.—Joshua Rothkopf
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