Still Walking 歩いても 歩いても Dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda (2008)

Still Walking   Still Walking Film Poster

歩いても 歩いても Aruitemo Aruitemo

Running Time: 114 mins.

Release Date: June 28th, 2008

Director:  Hirokazu Koreeda

Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda (Screenplay/Original Story),

Starring: Kiki Kirin, Hiroshi Abe, You, Yui Natsukawa, Kazuya Takahashi, Yoshio Harada, Shohei Tanaka, Haruko Kato, Susumu Terajima,

IMDB

Quite possibly Kore-eda’s best film this is a snapshot of a family over 24 hours that, through deft storytelling reveals richly complicated and interwoven lives from different generations.

The seasons are about to change from summer to autumn and preparations are underway at the Yokoyama household for the annual commemoration of the eldest son Junpei who drowned in an accident 15 years ago. The spacious, comfortable and old-fashioned house run by Toshiko (Kirin Kiki) will welcome her middle-aged children and their young families who will be arriving soon. Meanwhile, curmudgeon father Kyohei (Yoshio Harada), a former physician, walks around their quiet neighbourhood to the beach where the tragic accident happened when not hiding in the clinic attached to their home. The daughter, Chinami (YOU), will bring her good-natured husband Nobuo (Kazuya Takahashi) and their cheerful kids Satsuki (Hotaru Nomoto) and Mutsu (Ryoga Hayashi) who will invade the house and fill it with laughter and tales from school but there is an edge to the atmosphere as they await second son Ryota (Hiroshi Abe).

Ryota is seen as the black sheep of the family, having left home and headed to Tokyo where he works as an art restorer. When we meet him he is with his new wife, Yukari (Yui Natsukawa), a former widow with a 10-year-old son named Atsushi (Shohei Tanaka). From dialogue in the opening scenes we know that Toshiko isn’t impressed with the match – a divorcee chose to leave her husband but a widow is forced – and as we follow Ryota and Yukari from the station we understand that they fear this prejudice. Further pressure is added by the fact that work is a bit slow for Ryota.

It isn’t long before Kyohei and Toshiko start picking holes based on expectations different generations have.

Children don’t necessarily grow up the way you want them to.”

The drumbeat of the film is Ryota’s sense of betrayal that his parents resent he didn’t follow his brother and father into the medical profession to carry on the family practice and, most grievous of all, maybe they feel that the wrong son died. Interwoven into this drama is Yukari dodging questions about widowhood as her fitness as a wife is questioned. These sources of conflict are mostly brought out in passive-aggressive ways: subtly through naturalistic dialogue and actions that break the host/guest relationship and family ties. Sly criticism over a woman drinking too much, misremembered memories brought up to humiliate someone, barely suppressed indifference for lifestyle choices all mount up to test the children.

The old folks might sound unreasonable but their behaviour stems from their ingrained conservative values from the generation they grew up in and the need to follow social mores. As well as the loss of Junpei, they carry other indignities perhaps most potently shown when Toshiko plays a special record that recalls a moment of infidelity and their children don’t take the time to understand them.

Arguments row back and forth between the generations but the family holds together. As much as they are all connected by death and as much as personal agendas and resentments may colour behaviour, they know each other, they care enough to love and chastise each other, and they walk together as one unit because the underlying connection of love is also present. Everyone endures a mixture of affectionate digs and share closely held memories and when the family photos come out everyone gathers together and the people in the various couples understand each other. As the film drifts along the enduring thing is that everyone continues walking together and the moments are precious.Still Walking Film Image 2

What cannot be doubted is that the old couple, Toshiko especially, form the nucleus of the family and there is a definite sense of regret to proceedings – that of a family whose ties are frayed and the bond that holds them together is loosening. The elderly parents and the changing face of the city and the changes to the traditional home shows the passing of time and the weakening of the past and causes the kids to tenderly ask how their parents are doing and endure all of the foibles. This last element really gives the film a wistful air and a deep sense of regret as the 24 hours we spend with them begins to feel like too little. We know from interviews that Kore-eda made this film a few years after the death of his own mother¹ and knowing that makes the sense of lost time and connections more potent.

These are heady emotions but Kore-eda keeps the tone light by refraining from melodramatics and using actors and location changes to continually modulate the tone and allow the characters (and audience) to breathe. The old house where the action takes place is fantastic and speaks of a lived-in location full of memories. The camera work is perfectly measured in relaying the efforts of this fine ensemble of actors as they interact with each other and move around the set strategically to begin and end the drama. The chipper Chinami and her jovial husband Nobuo and the sweet-natured kids help defuse arguments with spicy humour and food is always a welcome break from talking. Hiroshi Abe and his soulful eyes and pensive face brilliantly conveys a thoughtful son stifling his disappointments while Yui Natsukawa is wonderfully down-to-earth with her patient and kind presence and politeness. When they are both pushed too far and we see the fury and indignation they feel over the social slights we are moved more. Kiki Kirin as a woman whose brusqueness and jollity hides both the deep care for her family and the way she bravely bears life’s disappointments and she is absolutely scary when her face takes a hard edge as she gives her reasoning for carrying on with the memorial and chastises others for weakness. Being with them is intense so it is a relief to get outdoor scenes bathed in sunlight and the relaxing sound of the guitar duo Gonchichi which allow the characters a way to escape and breathe. Nonetheless, we feel we are around real people and understand them.

The power Still Walking stems from how universal and humane it is. Many of these ideas have been looked at by Kore-eda in his other films, the connection of blood that makes a family in Like Father, Like Son (2013), inter-generational conflict Kiseki (2011) and patchwork families in Our Little Sister (2015) but what makes this a fine drama (and possibly Kore-eda’s finest) is that they are all combined into one smoothly told tale made potent with keenly felt emotions. The conflicts are many and very relatable: having to deal with ageing parents from a different generation and the desire to balance meeting expectations and preserving a sense of self. All of this is displayed by a fine set of actors especially Hiroshi Abe and Kiki Kirin who would work with Kore-eda again in a sort of unofficial sequel After the Storm (2016).

¹ Interview on Mubi 

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