Still Walking [歩いても 歩いても]

Still Walking [歩いても 歩いても], directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda [是枝裕和], 2008, 114 minutes

Review by Susan Meehan

Kore-eda’s latest film is a sympathetic, humorous and warm portrayal of a Japanese family laid bare revealing strains and tensions universal to all social groupings. The spectator is almost lulled into forgiving or excusing his/her own familial shortcomings, finding solace in the fact that they are repeated eternally.

The two Yokoyama siblings and families, gather at the parental home, a wonderfully large and open space, for what we gather is the fifteenth anniversary of older brother Junpei’s tragic drowning. Chinami, the sister, is already there with her husband and two children when brother Ryota reluctantly arrives with his wife, recently widowed, and his stepson, Atsushi. Ryota is uncomfortable in his parents’ home, feeling they don’t condone his marriage and that he has let down his taciturn father by not following in his footsteps to become a doctor.

The patriarch, pretending to be busy in his own study for much of the film, is disdainful of Ryota’s career choice, forever comparing him with Junpei. When Ryota catches him recommending the medical career to Atsushi, he puts his foot down and tells him not to interfere. Atsushi is, in fact, keen on becoming a piano tuner; we later find out this was his own father’s occupation. Paralleling this, it is also revealed as the gathered women begin looking through Ryota’s childhood books and pictures that he once wanted to become a doctor, emulating his own father’s career choice.

Was it disillusionment with his father that led to Ryota’s change of career plan – the kind of disillusionment Atsushi won’t encounter having lost his own father at a young age, the ideal of his father forever left unshattered?

The sadness and twistedness in the characters is palpable, and the audience is given a taste of the deceptions we play on one another and on oneself. Chinami is keen to move in to her parents’ house with her family in an attempt to give her mother company and support while her mother, in an aside to Ryota, pragmatically says she would rather not have that noisy lot move in and disturb her peace.

On the other hand is Ryota, a picture restorer whose professional life is in limbo; he pretends to receive work-related calls and has involved his wife and Atsushi in this deceit. Atsushi, who tends to call Ryota by his first name is told by his mother to call him ‘father’ in front of her in-laws; unwillingly, he complies in this pretence.

As the film progresses we are able to witness, through a bittersweet moment when the grandmother plays the 1960s tune ‘Blue Light, Yokohama’ on the record player, the unspoken hurt that she has been harbouring for decades. The viewer comes to understand that the snide remarks she makes to her new daughter-in-law are an expression of this pent-up pain; so is her act of inviting the (unfortunate) boy Junpei who died while saving, to visit their home every year. This is not done for altruistic reasons, it transpires, but for the pleasure of taunting him and making him remember the death of her child.  The shock of the audience at this disclosure reverberated round the cinema.

Despite the intricate emotions this sprawling family lays bare, they seem fond of each other and imbued with genuine concern and love for one another. We are all hard done by at times and the best way to deal with setbacks, it would seem, is to keep positive without wasting time becoming twisted; it will only end in regret.

 

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