Criterion // 2008 // 114 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // February 23rd, 2011
Radishes are genius.
Rarely can the dynamic of a family be explained by one major event. Instead, the love, the joy, and the contempt that builds up are made over hundreds of tiny things. In Still Walking, director Hirokazu Kore-eda (Nobody Knows) opens the door on one such family to show us the inner workings of three generations of average people at a time of remembrance. We may not realize it at the time, but the smallest actions and slightest comments can affect people in large ways.
Every year, the Yokoyama clan gets together to honor the life of the eldest son, who died while saving a man from drowning. While never a big event, it is a good chance for the family to get together and reminisce about time gone by. Over the course of this single day, we see a deep picture of a family bonded by time and experience.
Without a substantial story and inside one essential location, Kore-eda has created something quite profound in Still Walking. Family drama at its most pure, this is a film of uncanny realism and simple beauty that focuses on the smallest events to move forward. And move it does, albeit slowly, with a definite inertia that reminds me, as it should, of my own days spent with family. How many hours passed imperceptibly as we talked and laughed and often fought? What caused those arguments? In almost every case, the answer is that nothing in particular caused them; they occurred based on any number of small things, an off-handed comment that triggers a sensitive memory from a decade before, or a misunderstood look that sets off a host of accusations. Kore-eda's film is a profoundly sensitive glimpse at this world. While he was inspired to make Still Walking after the death of his mother and the premise is one of remembrance, the film is grounded in reality, not nostalgia. No matter why the family is together, the emotions they're experiencing are in the here and now, not in the memory of the dead.
All of this makes Still Walking feel immediate and spontaneous, like we are invisible observers inside the home. Both in the performances and Kore-eda's direction, this is as natural and realistic as it comes. Take a typical scene in which the family is gathered in the kitchen preparing food. While they perform their tasks, pans are clanking, knives are chopping, and everybody's talking but nobody is listening. It's the kind of chaos common in a household, but it drives me crazy and I did what I do in real life in these situations: I get out of the room and find some dang peace and quiet. That reaction is deeply ingrained in me and Kore-eda's ability to draw that out of me is something special. As real and spontaneous as it seems, though, each line is scripted and every motion choreographed to maximize the effect, and he really makes it work. The actors are all game, even the kids are fully in their characters, but the elders are the very best. Rarely have I seen an aging couple more convincing in showing a lifetime together full of wonderful memories and deep-seeded resentment.
What gives the movie its documentary feel, though, is Yutaka Yamazaki's incredible cinematography. He makes the most out of a minimal style, using vanishing points and perspective to tell the story visually. He frames the characters so that rarely is the entire clan in a shot. Even if they're all together in a room talking, he only shoots two or three people and draws our attention to particular things about the individual scenes. Sometimes, nobody is in the frame, just a distorted reflection in a window as he trains his camera on an old picture. Yamazaki helps build subtext in moments like this; his photography is as subtle as Kore-eda's direction, and no less effective. Together, this makes for an absolutely compelling film.
Criterion's Blu-ray edition of Still Walking is as beautiful as the film itself. This is a great release that is only marred by short plate of extras, though what was included is strong. This isn't a movie I'll use to test the limits of my system, but it's a reference quality transfer all the way. Perfect sharpness and clarity highlight Yamazaki's cinematography with its lovely, muted palette. It's a modern film, so it's not a shock that it would look so good, but it's perfect balance and detail make it a joy to watch. The sound, for a two channel mix, is surprisingly good. The dialog is sometimes quite soft, especially from Granny, it is always completely audible, free of noise, and sounding great.
The extra features are where the disc is slightly disappointing. What's here is interesting and informative, but there's just not very much here to enjoy. A 45-minute documentary on the making of them film runs down many aspects of the production, from its inception to on-set footage and interviews with the cast and crew. There's plenty of valuable insight here, and it's definitely worth the time. Aside from a trailer, all we have left is a pair of interviews, the first with Kore-eda and the second with cinematographer Yamazaki, and both are valuable looks at the making of the film. The customary booklet has a mediocre essay by Dennis Lim, but also contains a few pages of recipes for the food that's made in the film. Mmmm...fried corn patties. Those supplements that have been included are mostly very good, but I really wish there was more.
Kore-eda shows us the big picture by revealing tiny moments over a day of remembrance. Still Walking is neither sad nor happy; like any family, it's a combination of both forged over lifetimes, and the film is brilliantly realized. Seldom will you see a film this subtle, yet this resonant.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (Japanese)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated