Everyone Has A Song They Listen To On The Sly: Still Walking (2008)

I know I have made this statement on multiple occasions on my blog when I discuss Japanese films post 1960, but I cannot shy away from reemphasizing this now, the parallels between genre films of Japan and The United States are uncanny.  This is certainly the case with the 2008 family drama Still Walking, particularly in its study of the decaying of middle class traditions and the evaporation of the nuclear family ideal.  Arguably though, what separates Still Walking, and many other Japanese works of contemporary filmmaking, from its Western friends, is its attachment to the styling of the late Japanese masters, most notably Yasujiro Ozu.  It was only moments into this film before I realized the blatant similarities in mise-en-scene to Ozu, particularly in director Hirokazu Koreeda's staging the family as a public performance, as opposed to a private spectacle.  The conversations in this film, while dynamic, are undeniably deliberate and have the feeling of theatrics, which is understandable given that many of the films characters find themselves performing actions they believe "appropriate" as opposed to acting in the way they truly desire.  Yet, similar to Chinese director Wong Kar-Wai, Koreeda's film has an impermeable layer of reality that captures viewers into relating to the characters, even if they have little to nothing in common.  So, while I may say that the similarities to American cinema are uncanny, I would not hesitate to suggest that American independent cinema take a much needed cue from their Eastern contemporaries.

Still Walking, as noted above, is a film about family, particularly the distanced Yokoyama family that is still adjusting to the sting of a lost family member.  This family is led, unwillingly, by the aging doctor Kyohei (Yosio Harada) who is more concerned with clutching to his diminishing masculine identity than being hospitable to his children and wife Toshiko (Kirin Kichi) who often provides unwanted opinions about her childern's life decisions.  The remaining children consist of  daughter Chinami (You) and her seemingly mute husband Nobuo (Kazuya Takahashi) and son Ryota (Hirosha Abe) and his newly married wife Yukari (Yui Natsukawa).  Despite convening over the loss of a family member Chinami is preoccupied with claiming the house to herself in the face of her parents inevitable aging, while Ryota fights for his family to accept him as a son that is respectable compared to his deceased brother, while also trying to gain the family's approval of his wife who is a widowed mother.  This entire convoluted and ignored contention, like the food in the movie, is at the point of boiling over, until the family members begin to confess their issues with one another.  Slowly, with large amounts of patience and forgiveness, the family begins to realize the err in their ways and provide both acceptance and forgiveness to one another realizing that their own self-loathing and pain was not comparable to the acidic divisions it created amongst the whole.  In the end the family, including the extremely conservative Kyohei, realize that their lives are fleeting and to do anything but continue walking would be to live their lives and their lost family members life in vain.

This film is about the unspoken bonds of family, even those bonds that have become corroded by the divisions of failed communication.  The film is also very much about the power and problem of misappropriated tradition.  Still Walking is also very much about food.  It is a film about the power of performing family tradition as a focal point for unity, it is clear from the films opening scenes, to conversations about lunch and dinner, that even in the most dire of situations a group can meet and coalesce happily over a plate of food.  I am not terribly keen on food studies, or how they relate to film analysis, but I am aware that this field of study is becoming considerably prominent in academia.  I am not fully prepared to make an intense discussion about food studies as they relate to this film, but I am absolutely certain that it could be done, along with many of the films that made my Thanksgiving day Top Ten list.  Fortunately for me, I have a girlfriend who has taken a handful of classes in this subject and I plan to hound her about what family, food and performance really means.  Hopefully I can draw something deeper and more profound in the future on the subject, but for the time being I just find it intriguing that such a seemingly simple act like cooking, proves to be so necessary in assuring familial cohesion throughout Still Walking.  It is worth discussion, if only for how delicious all the food looks.

This is easily one of the best releases by Criterion in 2010 and a film I would never have watched were it not for its inclusion in the collection.  There are two reasons to pick up this amazing movie from the people over at Criterion: The first is for the brilliant film, and the second is for the recipes that are included in the supplemental book.

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