Hirokazu Kore-eda’s films are haunted by the specter of death—from the exquisite undercurrent of loss infusing Maborosi to the explicitly gimmicky conceptualization of the hereafter in After Life to the looming danger hovering over the abandoned children of Nobody Knows. His latest, Still Walking, again takes up questions of mortality. As the Yokoyama family reconvenes for what we gradually realize is a memorial day commemorating the eldest son’s death, remaining siblings Ryo (Hiroshi Abe) and Chinami (You) quietly grapple with the aging of their elderly parents. From the start, small moments gesture toward the transition from one generation to another; mother Toshiko (Kirin Kiki) explains that the sushi at the store down the street isn’t as fresh since the son took over the business. Father Kyohei (Yoshio Harada), a retired doctor, takes step-grandson, Atsushi (Shohei Tanaka)—by way of Ryo’s marriage to widow Yukari (Yui Natsukawa)—aside to encourage him in the direction of his former profession.
But much like Olivier Assayas’s gorgeous Summer Hours—a more direct meditation upon the passing of parents—Still Walking rarely feels gloomy; it hums too much with the buzz of life. Characters stream in and out of Kore-eda’s fixed frames during mealtimes, the family as organism on display. Sounds of cicadas and crickets often suffuse the soundtrack and provide a calming counterpoint to the bustle of activity. And in lovely, unadorned sequences, the director renders the magic present in even mundane moments: At one point, Yukari and Chinami’s children, often audible in the background even if offscreen, wander away, and the camera trails after them; Kore-eda captures their outstretched hands caressing a pink blossom against a white sky.
Click here to read all of Kristi Mitsuda's review of Still Walking.