Still Walking (Koreeda, 2008)

Koreeda's new film was my favorite at the Toronto International Film Festival
Koreeda’s new film was my favorite at the Toronto International Film Festival

Here’s the thing that’s constitutionally wrong with me–I still don’t get Yazujiro Ozu. Everyone at this year’s Toronto Film Festival kept comparing Koreeda’s newest film to Ozu’s works–other critics I spoke with, audience Q&A participants, even some printed reviews. In one of his sessions with the audience at Toronto, Koreeda suggested somewhat facetiously that his characters were too messy for an Ozu film and that they might be more at home in a film by Mikio Naruse.

Certainly the film’s premise, a close examination of a family struggling against the weight of social expecations, would make (and has made) fodder for an Ozu film, but for me that’s a bit like calling any examination of doubt Bergmanesque.

As I mentioned in my review of the film (at Looking Closer), Koreeda suggested he structured the film around objects. This means that rather than being filtered through any one character, the family’s dynamics are revealed organically and no one character’s experiences are given the impratur of idealization. Certainly, given Koreeda’s admitted inspiration for the film–his own mother’s passing–one would expect Ryota’s (the eldest sone, played by Hiroshi Abe) perspective to dominate the film. The film is neither an indictment nor a celebration of the parents, though. What is surprising–and delightful–about the film is how clear-eyed the portrait of the family is even when the setting for it is a situation that would normally invite excessive sentimentality. Bittersweet is one of the hardest tones to capture, perhaps because we are so cynical that we tend to assume instinctively that it is parody. Koreeda reminds us that emotions that we too often mock (because we find them embarassing or painful) are real and, often, beautiful.

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