Like two other IFC/Criterion collaborations, Still Walking focuses on a family struggling to relate to each other. But unlike those films, Kore-eda's movie revels in the ordinary, content to focus on the unspoken moments. The Yokoyama family, anchored by an aging retired doctor and meddlesome but loving mother, gathers to commemorate the death of the eldest son, who drowned saving a boy years earlier. The film pivots around Ryo, the younger brother, who has married a widow and mother of a young boy, and is bringing her home to disapproving parents he attempts to avoid every chance he gets.
Anyone with a surface knowledge of Japanese cinema will conjure up the obvious comparison to the films of Ozu hearing this summary. And in fact the comparison is apt. Kore-eda lingers on quiet details, and the film doesn't just avoid the flashy effects that color a film like A Christmas Tale, it seems completely unaware of their existence. It similarly defies easy resolutions or climaxes, instead choosing to depict one day of a family at its most basic level.
But like Ozu's films, Still Walking left me cold. Hirokazu Kore-eda made one of my favorite recent Japanese films, After Life, and I've often wondered if Criterion had their eye on that much better film for a release. Admittedly, the earlier film has a hookier premise that translates into a more overtly ambitious offering. Still Walking is the kind of film that will move a select few, but most people will be left with a nice little movie with fleeting memorable moments.