Still Walking Review

Western viewers love to use known points of reference even above more accurate ones. Director Hirokazu Kore-eda's Still Walking has, for some reason owing apparently to a mix of laziness and perception of style, been compared with the films of Yasujiro Ozu. This has occurred despite Kore-eda's own admissions that it was actually Mikio Naruse's output which served as his primary influence. Naruse holds far less recognition than Ozu, having had just a single DVD release made available in the U.S. and a pair of boxsets put out by the BFI and Masters of Cinema in the UK. Further English-friendly Naruse releases are non-existent. But Google "Still Walking" and "Ozu" and thousands of results appear, far more than instead inserting "Naruse."

Kore-eda's film has a delicacy in its depiction of family interactions and the subsequent awkwardness that manages to feel true yet still artificially cinematic. The clan shown in the film doesn't particularly value each other or enjoy everyone's company. It's a family shaded in degrees of bitterness. One son has been dead for years and the younger man they hold responsible for his demise is welcomed annually only as a means of witnessing his suffering. The main character, another son, is out of work but afraid to tell his proud parents and instead lets them believe he's participating in important art restoration projects. His wife, a widow who has a son from her earlier marriage, is never accepted by the family. The other sibling, a sister, is married also, to another outsider who'd rather sleep in an adjacent room than become too involved with the familial goings-on. What's here cuts deeply and with an authenticity that proves impressive. Kore-eda's simple family portrait echoes true.

It isn't, however, filled with any number of likable or sympathetic characters. You can decide for yourself whether this presents a problem. The patriarch figure is lightly sketched as a grumpy old man upset that his living son didn't follow in his footsteps to be a doctor. More shading would have perhaps given the character increased motivation. Kore-eda does this type of thing quite often. He refuses to establish these people as multi-faceted individuals. They're instead rather perfunctory and beholden to an overarching idea as established in the narrative. Regardless of whether this was intentional, it feels like a weakness. There's an implied desire to get to know more prickly characters in a film and Kore-eda denies this in favor of showing them as almost genetic results molded either by nature or nurture, depending on one's interpretation. It's hardly a fault on the face. Yet, I can't quite get past having such an underexploited and insensitive collection of male characters.

Kore-eda's film, too, had the misfortune of being released at roughly the same time as a pair of superior French family dramas, albeit ones that cover more than a single day during their length. Both Olivier Assayas' Summer Hours and Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale prove more layered than this Japanese offering in terms of resonance and complexity. Kore-eda, for all of his obvious talent and budding reputation established by After Life and Nobody Knows, hasn't made as strong of an impression with his characters or situations as his contemporaries. This amounts to an inequitable comparison that should hold little weight, but I'd still be remiss to ignore it. The French films find structure in acrimony and tragedy while Kore-eda can't rise above an unappealing cacophony of discord. The nuance and humanity are missing, and the result lacks somewhat in both ambition and execution. The prevailing idea here is that everyone involved, including the parents and the two married siblings, have either grown apart so much or never even established a basic understanding to know each other or have much in common beyond being family.

The Disc

New Wave Films released Still Walking on R2 DVD back in May. The disc is dual-layered and PAL.

The image is in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for widescreen televisions. It looks reasonably natural though maybe a little dark for my liking. The level of detail is serviceable without being impressive. Damage is never an issue. If you're interested in a purchase but still haven't gotten around to it, waiting for the promised Criterion Collection edition might be a good idea as the image can likely be improved upon a bit (without even considering the potential Blu-ray).

Audio is a Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 track that doesn't have far to go but nonetheless makes it there without incident. The track is mostly dialogue, in a language that most viewers of this disc will not speak, so there isn't an enormous amount of pressure here. Still, volume is appropriate and consistent throughout the movie and the two-channel mix sounds satisfactory. English subtitles are optional, and white in color.

The only supplement is a lengthy behind the scenes featurette (28:38). It's a medium strength piece that shows Kore-eda at work on the film. The inclusion of a narrator gives it some added interest.

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