Still Walking, from Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda, is the kind of gentle, endearing, realistic film that celebrates the everyday and the run-of-the-mill nature of human life. It finds drama and emotion in the simplest of moments, the smallest of glances between characters, and the consequences of saying even the smallest of wrong things. And it's naturalistic in a way that invites you in to a very real feeling world that can be simultaneously enjoyed and pondered.
Still Walking is about a middle-aged man and his wife who visit his parents in their remote home on the fifteenth anniversary of his older brother's death. It becomes clear straight away, evidenced by their mannerisms and how they speak as well as having photos and keepsakes around the house, that his parents favoured his now dead brother over him. But this is just one of the many issues dealt with throughout the course of the movie, others including love, family bonds, and what's expected of people.
What's admirable about Still Walking, which is something extremely rare in cinema, is it's reluctance to be showy. There are no car chases, no explosions, no contrived dramatic plot points; it's just a simple, naturalistic depiction of what feels very much like real life. It moves at a deliberate pace but never is it dull or uninteresting. A film doesn't need to be fast-paced to be enjoyable; for anyone who likes their movies to feel as close to reality as could be achieved outside of a home movie, Still Walking is an absolute must.
Similar to the work of Korean director Kim-Ki Duk (whose films also have a leisurely, deliberate pace) this is a gorgeously elegant film to look at. It's with a soft eye, if you will, feeling almost like a beautiful painting or perhaps at times even like a dream. Even before any of the dialogue or story starts you can tell this is going to be a sensitive, elegant, poignant film.
From start to finish the film wraps itself around you, absorbing you in the everyday aspects of life we might normally consider mundane. Cooking a family meal, washing the dishes, taking a bath, making small talk around the dinner table; we've all done these and what Still Walking does is realise that sometimes it's best to acknowledge them as part of daily life. Not everything is as exciting and epically dramatic as most movies make them out to be and Still Walking gloriously strives for this. It's also a film very aware of its small size and scope, never trying to be anything big or bold and almost meticulously sticking to its plan of intimacy and believability.
These people whose lives we have been dropped into the midst of are also very compelling and interesting. The man who resents having to visit his parents because of their favouring of his late brother, his wife who keeps convincing him to make an effort, his moody and less-than-talkative father and his very talkative, opinionated mother. All in their own way are they interesting and enjoyable just to be around; in particular the mother, who provides a lot of the very welcome comic relief, is funny and loveable.
But what Still Walking celebrates most is the idea of a proper family and all the joys and ills that come with being part of one. This may be a film set in a small village in contemporary Japan (worlds away both in distance and culture to those who see it in the West) but you'll recognise your own parents, brother and sisters, children and grandparents here and will relate to such things as arguing over which is the best way to cook a certain meal or discussing past family gatherings over the dinner table. And the film presents these things in the most unobtrusive, simple, and clear-cut of ways.
To anyone who is more accustomed to the blockbuster fare that gets all the mainstream love and attention, this might seem a bit on the underwhelming side. But as the popularity of film festivals goes to show, there are people out there who yearn for smaller, more independent features and Still Walking is a great example of one well worth checking out. With not a car chase or explosion in sight, this is a brilliantly judged, emotional and endearing little drama that further solidifies international cinema as a thing to be revered.