by James Hansen
As any avid moviegoer recognizes, it can be frustrating when you sit down for a movie and within ten or fifteen minutes know exactly where its going, what it will do, and the point its going to make. Of course, along the way, things can be subverted and toyed with, which is why genre “weaknesses” and three act script structure alone are never the only vices of a movie, and the movie can give itself some kind of life. Just because you hear Japanese Family Drama shouldn’t mean the movie is a moot point. Unfortunately, this is the case with Hirokazu Kore-eda’s (After Life, Distance, Nobody Knows) new film Still Walking – a film that does plenty of things well, but never comes close to overcoming its transparency and, insodoing, becomes a bore.
Still Walking revolves around the Yokoyama family. Ryota, a recently unemployed art restorer, has recently married a widow, Yukari, who has a ten-year old son. They are making a rare trip home to visit Ryota’s aging parents on the fifteenth anniversary of his eldest brother’s death. Uncomfortable around his father, a retired, very respected local doctor, Ryota is searching for his place in both families, as both a son, husband, and parent.
From the onset, and to its favor, Still Walking’s low-key, classic style addresses its modest expectations, and shows, as Kore-eda says in his director’s statement for the film, that “there are no typhoons in this film.” Taking this subtle approach, Still Walking is playing in the simple, tender territory that Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s uneven Tokyo Sonata powerfully ends on. The hushed, nuanced emotion is played well by each of the actors and actresses. Trouble is, the “subtle” formalism is made significantly less so by the directness with which it deals with issues, such as generational difference (cue the edits from old hands preparing foods to younger people on trains playing on Iphones and handheld video games; line up the hospital coming in to overtake the local doctor struggling to still do his job).
This is one of many instances where the somber attitude is made loud by these instantly recognizable tropes. Moreover, Still Walking ends with a terribly unnecessary, self-defeating coda, announced by the first bit of voice over in the entire film. This divulgence highlights the attempted subtlety of the rest of the film, but also forces one to question where such an overwrought decision came from. All though this misstep may seem from out of nowhere, the small missteps are planted throughout the film which makes the bigger misfire at the end all the more unsurprising. Coming after what was the predictable, if more satisfying, should-be ending of the three generations taking “the walk” together, the actual ending puts the heavy-handed stamp of disapproval all over the rest of the film.
Perhaps I’m being too hard on another near-end-of-life life-affirming film, as some have suggested I have been on a rhetorically similar film yet to be officially released. While Still Walking is still leagues above that film, its so see through everything in it just felt perfunctory. Although it does feature some strong performances, Kore-eda is treading familiar ground for the viewers and himself. Even though this film may be more deeply personal for him (both his parents have passed away in the last few years), there is nothing here cinematically that translates those feelings anyway differently than we’ve seen or felt more strongly before. As life goes on, we all have to keep moving in whichever way life leads us. Check, please.