Koreeda must be among the gentlest of modern filmmakers and Still Walking the almost perfect inverse to the so-called extremism driving populist interest in Asian cinema.
Why gentle? Koreeda takes a melodramatic premise here (concerned with the devastation that a tragic death wrecks upon surviving family members and one person connected with the incident), pads his story with bitter males and eccentric females, fiddles with a basic array of conflicts (young vs old, husband vs wife, city vs country, life as painfully slow vs death as sudden and unexpected) and yet manages to emerge with a picture that is delicate, lyrical and observational.
By approaching the subject with restraint, avoiding histrionics and structuring the drama across lengthy individual scenes that develop and nurture tension gracefully over the natural passage of time. A full blown climax where emotions are purged is avoided, instead we’re provided with a much more realistic portrayal of a functionally dysfunctional family, where strained feelings and arguments linger forever, inescapably. A warm humour and humanity is deeply invested in each main character, obliging us to discern and care about their unique perspectives, be it to share or oppose them.
It’s interesting that children and spouses are kept in play throughout the drama, directly onscreen or heard offscreen. Complicating the dynamics that extended families offer, their presence seems to more succinctly motivate and highlight the internalisation of emotion by the father, mother, son and daughter, all of whom have responsibilities and appearances to keep.
Importantly, the film isn’t at all dreary. There are great moments of humour and simple rustic pleasures, especially in the somewhat obligatory cooking and eating scenes that bring units of the family together. The promise of the title and key art is played out a couple of times, with parasols servicing long summer strolls through idyllic countryside surroundings that can only make your next vacation period come sooner.
Unfortunately, too few films like this are produced and theatrically released beyond festivals. For every Lethal Battle Girl Alpha Fox Seventy-Seven hitting the DVD shelves we get 0.03 of these. Unashamed humanism, apparently, is a hard sell. But vampires with human emotions? Well now….