We’re Still Walking Here

08/26/2009 4:00 AM |

Still Walking
Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda

Still Walking, writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest film to be released in America, is one of his most challenging domestic dramas to be released here theatrically thus far. Koreeda’s films champion sole survivors: people who have somehow become separated from their family, friends and society, but have never faded away into obscurity.

This time, however, Kore-eda’s survivors are an elderly couple who have not yet been forgotten, though they are only rarely visited by their two grown-up children. Their story is thus not just about how they cope with the knowledge that no one depends on them anymore, but how their children act knowing that they can’t provide them with what they need. “I always remember too late,” says their prodigal son Ryo (Hiroshi Abe), just after he promises his wife that they since they’ve already visited them once that year, they no longer need to visit his parents later for New Year’s.

Kore-eda establishes a complex family dynamic through an ambling, free-form stream of discussions between parents and children, revolving around everything from how to cook radishes to the significance of yellow butterflies. These conversations incrementally reveal that both the older and younger generation are aware of the burden they put on each other, making their self-conscious attempts to reconnect that much more tentative. When Ryo defensively tells Kyohei (Yoshio Harada), his father, that his own son doesn’t need to grow up to be a doctor, as he was expected to, Kyohei responds that not everything is about Ryo. There’s no way for them to not hurt each other.

It’s tempting to say that Toshiko (Kirin Kiki), Kyohei’s wife, really stands out thanks to a handful of scenes that establish her submissive character as one of Still Walking’s most ambiguous, but there’s really not a single weak performance in the film’s cast. Each character has an inner life, and hence none are capable of admitting just how much they miss being a part of each other’s lives. They’re like ghosts, but, as Toshiko says, “We keep walking forever and ever.”

Opens August 28