Much like Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill, Still Walking is hard to describe in a single logline. While it is a family drama that unfolds mostly during the anniversary of the death of the family’s eldest son, that’s a little like saying that the Big Chill takes place at a funeral. It’s really about the extended family dynamic, all the subtle ways in which the family unit is changing, and also the ways in which the family’s values are being retained. It’s a complex film, but it is a joy to watch.
I really felt like I was a fly on the wall of Grandma’s house. Writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda keeps the camera mostly static, allowing his actors to play out most scenes in long and medium shots, coming in for the close ups only when absolutely necessary. He exhibits a deft touch that doesn’t so much point us to his conclusions about the characters, but instead allows us to slowly accumulate impressions until we form our own conclusions. Proof of his mastery is the fact that, in the end, I think my conclusions were exactly the ones he wanted me to have.
Every performance here is pitch perfect. I have to wonder how close these actors were to the characters they were portraying. There’s very little “acting” seen onscreen here. I hesitate to single any one member of the cast out as they all deserve accolades as an efficient and convincing ensemble.
Settings are realistic and efficient but they’re also thrilling to see as an outsider of Japanese culture. I felt like I was getting a real look into the lives of regular Japanese people — something rarely seen in Japanese cinema outside that country. As such, I also got the feeling that our differences really amount to the trappings and not so much to the people. If there is an ultimate message here, I think it’s that people will be people, regardless of their generations, countries, jobs, or economic statuses.
If there is any fault to be given the picture, it’s that it’s a little bit difficult to get into at first. Koreeda doesn’t feel the need to give us all the information about everyone up front, so at first it can feel a little like eavesdropping on a family argument at the next table over. But I was amazed by how I felt like I knew these people intimately by the time the movie was over. I think that’s due to the fact that we’re given tiny bits and pieces along the way in much the same way we get to know our real world friends and family. As soon as it was over, I felt compelled to go back and watch the movie again. I was amazed by just how much more I liked the beginning of the film on the second viewing after I’d really “met” the characters.
This film is currently available via Netflix streaming and is highly recommended.