Michigan students returning from Thanksgiving break may have noticed that the air in Ann Arbor is markedly colder than it was a few days ago. Piles of work and sleepless nights await in the short weeks before the respite of winter vacation. It’s times like these that people need warmth and refuge more than ever, and there is no place more tranquil and inviting than within the frames of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Still Walking.”

“Still Walking”

At the Michigan Theater
IFC

“Still Walking” brings together the Yokoyama family for its annual ritual honoring Junpei, the eldest son who drowned 12 years ago while rescuing a young boy. The ceremony’s participants’ moods range from unapologetic disdain for the tradition to false cheer for the reunion, but everyone is clearly uncomfortable, especially Junpei’s surviving brother Ryo (Japanese actor Hiroshi Abe).

This discomfort bristles in sharp contrast to the gorgeous scenery surrounding the contentious family. The cinematography of this film is so beautiful that it’s difficult to pay full attention to the narrative — the interiors are warm and inviting despite their grouchy inhabitants and crumbling bathroom tiles. The nature depicted outside is also vibrant and colorful.

The film’s central theme, the turmoil that brings the Yokoyama family together, lacks the intimacy of the house in which the characters converge. Kyohei (Japanese veteran Yoshio Harada), the aging patriarch of the family, makes explicitly clear his preference for the departed Junpei. Kyohei’s wife Toshiko (Kirin Kiki) admits to her living son that she invites the now-grown boy whom Junpei rescued to their home every year just to watch him struggle with the guilt of his own survival. But there is no rage here, only a stale and lingering depression, and the Yokoyamas’ aging grief cannot dim the beauty of their surroundings.

The architecture of the family’s home lends itself to exceptional shot construction. After the customary greetings and small talk, the Yokoyamas kneel at a table obviously not intended for such a large dinner party. The grimacing family eats in silence, cramped within the wooden beams of the dining room and eager for the meal to end. Ryo and his stepson bathe together after a forceful suggestion from Grandma Toshiko; the tub is cramped, and both man and boy’s knees poke out of the water as they each stare blankly and awkwardly at the wall in front of them.

The outdoor imagery is as sharp as it is lovely — at the graveyard, Ryo’s stepson’s face appears between the crook of his mother’s arm and Junpei’s headstone, indicating that he is caught between families.

Even with subtitles, “Still Walking” thankfully delivers. An American audience’s possible lack of familiarity with the Japanese language might mask some deficiencies in performance by a film’s actors, but there is no mistaking the genuine emotion of the cast of “Still Walking.” These do not look like people reciting lines for a role. This is a real family with real love and real disappointment.

Anyone in Ann Arbor could look out a window right now and it would be difficult to blame that person for feeling depressed at the sight. If you find yourself swamped with work or cold or tired and you have two hours to spare, use them to see “Still Walking.” The warmth will last long enough to see you home.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.