When most of us hear a film described as a family drama, it comes with certain expectations. An explosion of pent-up emotion; a shouting match across the dinner table; long held secrets finally coming to light. I personally always think of Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen when I hear the phrase. In Still Walking, what we find is an altogether different take on those words, creating something more unique, more honest, and a genuinely revelatory experience
The final part of our Hirokazu Kore-eda retrospective shows us 24 hours in the life of the Yokoyama family. Every year they gather at the parental home to commemorate the death the eldest son Junpei, who died while saving a boy from drowning. At these gatherings, surviving son Ryota is made to feel inadequate by his father, who barely hides the fact he thinks the wrong son died. Adding to Ryota’s concerns this year is that his new wife, Yukari, will be meeting the family for the first time, although he feels his mother Toshiko looks down on for her being a widow. They are also joined for these yearly rituals by the boy Junpei saved the day he died, now an adult man the father finds so repellent he questions why his son had to die to save him of all people. But where most films would use this set-up as a tinderbox for a third-act fireworks display, Kore-eda maintains a sense of calm throughout, giving us one of the most realistic displays of family life I’ve ever seen on film.
Much of the screen time is given to food; a major concern of Kore-eda’s, with his loving shots of pot noodles in Nobody Knows, and the sizzling steaks of Like Father, Like Son. But rarely has it been so intertwined with the story. From the opening shots of mother and daughter peeling radishes to the grandfather summoned from his solitude by the popping of the corn, the direction and editing drive home the importance of food within families.
But what really stands out in this film is the scale of the drama, with Kore-eda keeping things believably low-key and mundane. From his parents crediting a joke of Ryota’s to his dead brother, or the mother’s flippant comments about his new wife, these are relatable, believable exchanges that we could all see happening in our own lives; not something that we’re going to flip the table over, but something that niggles away at us over time.
Still Walking doesn’t try to give us easy solutions to long-standing problems, in the way we’d usually find in film. These issues have been simmering under the surface for years, colouring nearly every interaction in the film, and in real life we wouldn’t find a resolution over night. That’s what makes Still Walking such a unique proposition; they don’t here either, and that’s where the beauty lies.Find your cinema and book tickets