Still Walking

Still Walking (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

The Yokoyama family gather to remember the death of Junpei, the eldest son of Kyohei (Yoshio Harada) and Toshiko (Kirin Kiki), fifteen years earlier. While Toshiko and her daughter, Chinami (You), cook lunch, their conversation leads to Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) marrying a young widow, Yukari (Yui Natsukawa), with a son and how he could have chosen to be with someone else who had less baggage. Meanwhile, Ryota wishes to hide the fact that he is currently unemployed, especially from his father, a retired physician, who expects a lot out of his remaining but less favored son.

“Aruitemo aruitemo,” also known as “Still Walking,” traverses a familiar dramatic territory but it is nonetheless an effective exercise because the topics and emotions it broaches are executed with realism that stings. Over a decade has passed since Junpei’s tragic drowning but Chinami and Ryota’s parents remain in a state of grief. It is interesting to observe the way the siblings navigate a minefield of sensitive topics and get through a couple of hours of spending time with their parents.

The story unfolds over a day and a half and mostly takes place in one house. We listen to words being exchanged, from casual conversations about the weather to things that are better off whispered in order to avoid hurting someone else’s feelings. The camera adapts to each type of dialogue. For example, if a topic is welcome to everyone’s ears, a wide shot is employed, cramming in as many people as possible in one frame. If, however, a topic is about a person’s personality or personal choices, the camera tends to be as close as possible to the ones expressing their judgment. When the camera pulls back, the empty space is noticeable perhaps to denote a flaw or what is missing in a person’s harsh evaluation of another.

The character I found most fascinating is Toshiko because she, arguably, exhibits the most discrepancy in terms of which side of herself she is willing to show. When around a lot of people, she seems giving, outgoing, warm—qualities that we all want from our grandmother. However, one-on-one sessions reveal that she is far from our ideation of a perfect grandmother. There is one scene, quite chilling, between she and Ryota as the latter suggests that maybe she ought to forgive the person that she thinks is responsible for Junpei’s death. The way she responds to her son challenged my opinion of her. Up until that moment, I was convinced that her husband is the one that has more anger.

Unfortunately, there are moments when I found myself getting bored, particularly when the clan shares its first meal. I understand that the conversation is casual and so the camera, according to the director’s formula, must be pulled back. Although typical, it might have been more interesting tonally if the camera is allowed to move and focus on each character who has something to say. By having the camera so distant, what could have been one of the best scenes feels flat as a visual and aural experience.

Written and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, “Aruitemo aruitemo” is about the hiding one’s sadness. Chinami uses her vibrant personality either to avoid complete silence or steer conversations away from her dead brother. Meanwhile, Kyohei chooses to stay in his office for extended periods, away from everyone that might say or do the wrong thing. There is a lot to experience beneath the topsoil of the unsaid. If only its adherence to technical details isn’t so rigorously applied, perhaps there would have been fewer moments that feel dull and robotic.

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