Summertime in Japan – who doesn’t love it? You wake up dripping with sweat and pretty much go to sleep dripping with sweat. You hate your job, don’t have a car yet have to get to your parents’ seaside home for their annual remembrance of your brother (and their favorite son) that passed away over a dozen years ago. You are taking your new wife and her 10 year old son to meet them. Apparently mom and dad weren’t invited to the wedding. No problem since mom thinks a widow is used goods anyway.
In the opening scene the daughter and mother are cooking and discussing the merits of the emblematically cumbersome daicon radish. Is it just a big, white, slimy, rolling-pin-looking vegetable? Is it a euphemism for the traditionalism lost and wayward wanderings of the current crop of Japan’s females? Cooking is what women do when there is a gathering. You cook and you gossip and things are humidly intense in the kitchen while men sit outside and wait. Wait to be waited on. This is how things are/should always be. Plus talking about food and gossiping is so much more delicious than any actual real talking, amirite? The mother thinks all of the above things to be true and before 10 minutes pass we are already exasperated with her undermining backhanded compliments. Kore- Eda makes numerous statements to this affect throughout the film while paralleling the very real loss of domestic skill and technique with the daughter’s paltry ability to properly peel a vegetable. The mother blindingly skins a carrot using only a paring knife, clicking her tongue without missing a beat.
The mother, a proud house maker her whole life and the father, a retired physician, only have eyes for their long dead son. A dozen years later they are still haunted by their golden boy’s tragic death and their surviving son’s inability to live up to any kind of “potential”. When he brings home his new wife, who has a son from her previous marriage, a screen of frosty daggers hidden behind the demure of entrenched politeness ensues. The director’s comment on Japan’s long instilled distrust of foreigners, even within the family unit, is completely unveiled here. There is also the typical father – son antagonism. No one was there to take over the father’s practice and it gnaws at him bitterly. The father retreats into his little room, comes out only to be fed, snarls taciturn insults at his family, then hobbles back. Truly, the whole film is an emotionally exhausting trip to that family function you’ve been meaning to avoid, the only difference is this one is lighted to a golden-hued, Blu-ray perfection and everyone is bowing with politeness.
Very few Japanese directors can do transcendentally minimalistic meditations on death and the family like Hirokazu Kore-Eda. Obviously, this is NOT your explosion riddled, green screened, action packed fare but if you are into excellent film, want to impress a girl, or (best of all) looking to possibly expand your own consciousness, his work is for you. Wining multiple grand jury prizes for his films such as Moborosi, After Life and Nobody Knows, he continues to explore what loss means to each of the characters in a referential, nuanced reflection. Usually steeped heavily in the Japanese film tradition of Ozu, Kore-Eda takes it several steps further to denounce the post-modern infestation of the current technological era and add a glimmer of hope for the future. There are no easy answers in any of his films, but with Still Walking there is a sweet humor that eases the march up, just a bit.