Still Walking / Aruitemo Aruitemo
d. Hirokazu Koreeda / 2008 / Japan / 114 min
Viewed at: Screen 3 @ Cinema City (Norwich, UK)
It sounds kind of naff (and even somewhat condescending, given the tone of my last post) but a big part of me thinks that Hirokazu Koreeda’s Still Walking is exactly what proper, quality world cinema is all about, and puts to absolute shame the swathes of dull, lifeless, undramatic family dramas that emanate from national cinemas around the world on an almost monthly basis.
Gathered to mark the loss of their eldest son and brother, the Yokoyama family struggle to express their collective hopes and dreams as they continue to grieve, many years after the fact. A synopsis like that might suggest proper melodramatic fare, but Koreeda renders every moment with a peculiar matter-of-factness, where the usual blazing rows are replaced with begrudging respect and barely contained passive-aggression.
Properly naunced, this contemplative ensemble piece doesn’t ask its family to overcome a sudden tragedy – although a past tragedy is precisely what draws them back together – but derives its real drama from the unfeasibly high expectations and simple disappointments that cause friction between fathers and sons the world over.
Suffice to say that the lightness of Koreeda’s touch is astounding, as the chorus of critics comparing him to Yasujirō Ozu grows ever louder. And whilst the Ozu influence is writ large here, Koreeda upends the generational divides that plagued Ozu’s Tokyo Story and adds his own irrepressible touch.
A smattering of low camera angles and plenty of long-lens depth of field compression is all very well, but Koreeda’s greatest offering to the ghost of Ozu is his occasional focus on passing trains (an Ozu favourite), in a tribute matched only by Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s overt Ozu homage, Café Lumière (2003).
Most importantly, with Still Walking, Hirokazu Koreeda not only manages to pay subtle tribute to the master of Japanese cinema, he also delivers his most starkly original work to date.