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Original Title:
Aruitemo aruitemo

Japan 2008


Hirokazu Koreeda

Hiroshi Abe
Yoshio Harada
Kirin Kiki
Yui Natsukawa
Shohei Tanaka
Kazuya Takahashi
Ryoga Hayashi
Hotaru Nomoto
Susumu Terajima

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Still Walking

Story: Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) visits his parents with his new wife Yukari (Yui Natsukawa) and his stepson Atsushi (Shohei Tanaka) on the occasion of the death anniversary of his brother. Also at the parents' home is his sister Chinami (You) who along with her husband Nobuo (Kazuya Takahashi) is hoping to be allowed to move into the house of her parents with their two children. The mother of Chinami and Ryota, Toshiko (Kirin Kiki), isn't really happy about that, but she leaves the decision to her husband Kyohei (Yoshio Harada), a retired physician who is a man of few words, because she knows that he will be against it. The relationship between Ryota and his father is especially strained since Ryota's older brother was supposed to fill the shoes of his father and therefore has experienced special care by his father. Ryota still feels unwelcome and this impression isn't changed by the fact that his father doesn't really seem to be interested in his new wife. Nonetheless, an invisible bond created by the pain that came with the loss of the oldest child still connects the family to this day.

Review: Director Hirokazu Koreeda has already attracted attention with movies like "After Life". This time he illuminates the life of a Japanese family with an at first glance documentary style, yet his themes are cross-cultural and thus concerning the stuctures within a family will have high recognition value for everyone. The quiet drama "Still Walking" apparently has no real goal it wants to achieve, simply shows the life as it is and includes dialogues that sound so real that the feeling to see a documentary is apparent very often. Every one of the characters has his peculiarities, his weaknesses, problems with the negative sides of the other and as it is often the case there is no talk although everyone is aware that it would be necessary to make the atmosphere within the family a bit more positive. Maybe that's also because it's obvious that such a talk would be everything but fruitful. People are people. Hirokazu Koreeda's bittersweet way of portraying the family is heartwarming resp. tragical, yet, in any case touching.

Ryota has some serious issues with his father and they derive from the fact that Ryota always wanted to play the role of his older brother for which his father had no understanding. His oldest son was his heir who was supposed to fill his shoes. Being disappointed and neglected Ryota started to rebel against his father and that's still what constitutes the relationship between father and son. It's also sad that during several talks the family is attaching certain achievements to Ryoata's brother which in fact Ryota was responsible for. It's not really important to rectify such things, at least that's the impression the director at first seems to convey, but somewhen it nonetheless is of importance that Ryota was the one who had a clever idea as a child. And in the end it's exactly like that! No one can say that he really likes someone else to take the credit for one's achievement. Thus, it isn't difficult to sympathize with Ryota as the actual protagonist of the story.

In fact the other characters are standing as much in the focus as Ryota, though. Kyohei was a physican and even nowadays is intent on retaining a certain reputation. He is very stern, doesn't easily forgive, flees the family gahering whenever he can and locks himself up in his workroom. Still, he is a bitter old man who is quite aware that he isn't of the same use for the society as he was back in his days. It's also not really easy to say if he might not be disappointed by his children after all. Ryota is unemployed at the moment but he is keeping it a secret from his family because he fears the indoctrination of his father. Interestingly enough Ryota and his father are actually quite alike. It's especially their stubbornness that will never get them to find some common ground.
Mayve the most interesting person is the mother, though, who is scolding her husband whenever she gets the chance. Moreover, it doesn't seem that the two have much to talk with each other after all those years, but we never doubt that they are a couple for life.

The emptiness that the loss of the oldest child brought with it especially saps the energy of father and mother, naturally. The son lost his life when he saved someone else from drowning and during one impressive scene the mother also states the reason why she invites the man his son has saved to the death anniversary year after year. It's negative characters traits that the individuals slowly reveal, but it's those that you can easily relate to. Ryota's wife also puts a good face on the matter when Ryota's mother doesn't think of a pyjama for Atsushi as well. It's the small things that can hurt us.
Chinami wants to lay claim on the house of her parents after their death and that's why she wants to settle in with them now while her mother would like more to give the house to Ryota. However, Ryota isn't interested in this at all. It's those entanglements the sort of you also find in real life that make "Still Walking" such an honest drama.

The first half of the film is pretty vibrant since Chinami, who always has something to talk about, is visiting her parents' home while her children are playing and running through the house which on a side note is also where most part of the movie takes place. When they are all gone things become more quiet and the film's focus shifts on the characters that are staying behind. Director Hirokazu Koreeda captures the events with a slow hand even at the beginning, however, and remains at a certain place for a while in order to not destroy the natural dynamic of the family life. In the end, he also doesn't aim at conveying a certain message, the message is simply there. Be it the several promises to go to a soccer match together, which never really comes to pass, or the fact that Ryota never calls his mother and has only stayed the night because he hopes that now it wouldn't be necessary to go there again at New Year's Day, "Still Walking" tells the story of a family that looks very normal and real because of their numerous flaws. At the end you are left behind with a sad or a warm feeling. That is up to the viewer!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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