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An Intimate And Understated Drama Puts You At The Table For A Feast of Subtle Delights
on December 9, 2010
Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda has made some terrific, understated dramas. Emotional, heartfelt, and real--Kore-eda's films capture true moments without ever descending into theatrics, melodrama, or false sentimentality. His "Nobody Knows," a decidedly bleak story of child abandonment, might have been a very different and over-the-top horror show had Kore-eda not nailed it with a quiet intensity and remarkable realism. But as much as I admired "Nobody Knows," and "After Life" for that matter, I think that my personal favorite is "Still Walking." And I'm thrilled that this understated gem is getting the Criterion stamp so more people will experience this lovely film. Perhaps the most realistic and intimate portrait of a family gathering ever put on film, "Still Walking" perfectly captures all the nuances that make families tick. Tender, funny, frustrating--all the love and obligations that bring people together share space with the disappointments and misunderstandings that drive them apart.
This is not a plot focused narrative, but rather a character driven sociological examination of a typical family unit. Marking the anniversary of the death of their son, a elderly couple are joined by their other grown children for an annual ritual of respect. Their daughter, with whom they share a close relationship, is on hand to assist in the preparations with her husband and two children. But much of the event centers around the return of the other son (Ryota) accompanied by his new wife and stepson. Ryota is a wayward soul who has lived in the shadow of his dead brother and he dreads these visits home. Much of the movie takes place over cooking or over dining with shared jokes, reminiscences, and familial banter. But even as the participants fall into their usual roles, they have evolved as well and must adopt to the subtle differences that the years bring.
The terrific screenplay is so amazingly real--I truly felt as if I were eavesdropping on an actual family get-together. Funny and thoughtful, "Still Walking" strikes a perfect balance. Hiroshi Abe is spot-on as Ryota, perhaps the most demanding role. Ryota's complicated relationship with his stubborn father provides the most intense drama. But everyone is so good and believable here--from the sweet but scattered mother to the chatty accommodating sister to the peacemaker new wife. It's a lovely ensemble. I was thoroughly captivated by "Still Walking." If I had one negative, and it's a slight one, the film misses a natural conclusion and adds a scene that (while sweet) seemed a beat too much.
The film gets a new high def digital transfer as well as new interviews with Kore-eda and the director of photography. There's also a "making of" featurette. But, in an inspired bit of whimsy, recipes from the food in the film are included in the traditional Criterion essay booklet. It's an unusual, but fitting, homage to the film as the meals are the core of any gathering! No joke, though, I went into this film with absolutely no preconceived notions and I loved it. If you like intimate, well scripted, family drama--I hope you will too! KGHarris, 12/10.