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From left, Yui Natsukawa & Hiroshi Abe in STILL WALKING (Photo: IFC Films)

Written & Directed by
Hirokazu Kore-eda
Produced by
Yoshihiro Kato & Hijiri Taguchi
Released by IFC Films
Japanese with English subtitles
Japan. 114 min. Not Rated
Hiroshi Abe, Kirin Kiki, Yui Natsukawa, Yoshio Harada, You, Kazuya Takahashi

Writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda has imaginatively mused about what comes after death in Afterlife, and wrenchingly explored children growing up without parents in Nobody Knows. In Still Walking, he looks ruefully at what happens within a family in between these stages of life—nothing much. But Hirokazu’s portrait, full of poignancy and insight, marks the crucial difference between art and real life.

Art restorer Ryota Yokoyama (Hiroshi Abe) spends his professional life bringing back the past, when he’s employed. But he is very nervous preparing to face his own in a weekend visit to his elderly parents at the suburban house where he grew up. He brings along his wife, Yukari (Yui Natsukawa), and her 10-year-old boy, who will meet Ryota’s family for the first time. That he has only recently married the widow comes out through hints.

At the strained reunion, past sorrows, dashed dreams, failed expectations, sibling rivalries, and resentments are only gradually revealed in familiar conversations, including the reason for the annual gathering. Ryota’s father (Yoshio Harada), a semi-retired general practitioner, had hoped to pass the medical practice on to a son. His caustic mother (Kirin Kiki) has the traditional role of taking her new daughter-in-law into the kitchen for the extensive (and delicious looking) meal preparations, as well as for some frank talk about the possibility of Ryota and Yukari having a child of their own.  

Cutting through the silences is Ryota’s blunt sister Chinami (You), who with her salesman husband and kids are a bit too much like the family of no-neck monsters in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She’s the one who digs out a childhood memento of Ryota’s that makes for a highly laden comparison to the life he’s lived since. The closest to a big revelation comes with the arrival of an awkward guest, whose life calamitously crossed with the family’s 15 years earlier.

There is no emotional explosion or big catharsis of acceptance or forgiveness. Instead, the film is so suffused with regret that it is almost redundant when Kore-eda adds an afterword about the recent deaths of his parents. Many of the cast and crew have worked with the filmmaker before in his delicate and subtle communication style. They sensitively demonstrate here how nothing much happening to this idiosyncratic family is the universal story of every family. For all humans, you’re born, you die, and in between you hope to still be walking together. Nora Lee Mandel
August 24, 2009



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