There is a rich tradition of the family drama in Japanese cinema and this is a worthy addition to it. Still Walking observes and reveals the humor, history, and hidden emotions of an extended family over the course of twenty-four hours. A brother and sister, their spouses and children, attend a yearly gathering at the home of their parents to commemorate the death of their older brother, the pride of the parents, who died accidentally fifteen years ago while attempting to save a young boy, a stranger, from drowning.
The film has a languid pace and a subtle sense of humor. There is a stereotypical grouchy and reserved father who has a stereotypically antagonistic relationship with his second son, a doting and good-humored mother, a loving and amiable sister. It seems like there may not be anything new here. There really isn't, and not much happens until another annual guest to the gathering shows up. He is the boy the older brother saved from drowning. He's an overweight, fidgety, perspiring loser. He is extremely uncomfortable and we can sense the parent's resentment that it was not him who died instead of their son.
There was something about Air Doll that bothered me. There is a scene where the Air Doll meets, literally, her maker. The man basically essays to her on the meaning of the film: aren't human beings just empty vessels too, desiring and needing to be filled up? I've come to think that Kore'eda didn't trust his audience, or perhaps himself, enough to let the film speak for itself. He felt the need to explain it. There is a similar scene in Still Walking. After the ill-at-ease boy leaves the family's home the son observes to his mother that it seems almost cruel to invite him as he seems so uncomfortable, almost tortured by it. The mother acknowledges this and says "That's why we invite him." The scene should have cut right there but Kore'eda has the mother discourse on the necessity of this sadism.
Even with that flaw, and the fact that Still Walking doesn't present an original scenario, I still loved it. I enjoyed meeting this family. Kore'eda and the cast bring a freshness to the family drama staple of Japanese cinema. The photography is beautiful, the direction is fluid and accomplished, the performances superb, and there is a surprisingly good amount of subtle humor throughout the film. Highly recommended to those who enjoy the slow-paced and thoughtful.
Starring: Hiroshi Abe, Yui Natsukawa, You, Kazuya Takahashi, Shohei Tanaka, Kirin Kiki