Still Walking

Starring Hiroshi Abe, Yui Natsukawa, Yoshio Harada
Directed by Hirozaku Koreeda
Not Rated
01:54
3.5 stars

Family issues are hard to take seriously. Bring them up in casual conversation, and you’re sure to get stares. It’s no wonder that in television shows and movies alike, family dramas are consistently reduced to comedic farce or tear-jerking melodrama. It’s easier to brush aside conflict than to deal with it.

In real life, though, rarely can a problem be simplified into a punch line. Hirozaku Koreeda confronts this topic in “Still Walking,” the acclaimed director’s latest analysis of family life.

“Walking” is defined by its Japanese heritage, and Koreeda works hard to portray the essence of his culture’s beauty. In the opening sequences, we’re greeted by rolling Japanese landscapes and lush cherry blossoms — moving cinematography that seems to mimic still-life. The director shifts thoughtfully between frames, focusing heavily on Japanese iconography. By the time we’re introduced to the cast, we’re already so enraptured by their culture that we’ve almost completely forgotten our own.

While the film is a family drama, it centers on smaller conflicts that grow beneath the surface of familial temperament during the anniversary of the eldest son’s death. As the family converges to reflect on their loss, we are introduced to two distinct generations and their deep resentments of one another.

Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), the eldest living son, harbors bitterness towards his father for undermining his career decisions. In turn, Ryota’s father resents his son for not following in his footsteps and becoming a doctor. Ryota’s mother disapproves of Ryota’s marriage to Yukari, (Yui Natsukawa) a widowed mother. Yukari, in turn, resents that she is resented. And so it goes.

But the film’s true beauty lies in the fact that none of these conflicts are ever completely visible. Instead, hostility is manifested in passive-aggressive remarks left for the audience to decode. Subtlety is the name of the game, and it is our job to put the pieces of the family’s complicated history together.

While the tension never loosens its grip, by the end of Ryota’s visit, all rough edges have been smoothed out, and the characters — us included — are left with a satisfying sense of hope for a better future.

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