Did you know Japanese people sometimes sit around the dinner table and share an uncomfortable silence? It’s true! It’s not all monsters and scary cell-phone ghosts and yakuza revenge and dripping-wet samurai in stormy bamboo forests, screaming as they charge toward each other, swords drawn, slicing individual raindrops as they go. Sometimes Japanese families just quietly fret about the mental health of their stubborn patriarch—just like families here!
I’ve heard there was once a creature called a Yasujiro Ozu that made quiet Japanese family dramas where no ghosts haunted outhouses and not every closet in the countryside was a portal to a fluffy-cloud wizard zone. But I find that difficult to believe.
Anyway. Still Walking (Aruitemo Aruitemo) is the sixth film by writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda. A family gathers to commemorate a death—12 years ago, the eldest son drowned while saving a younger man. All kinds of unresolved tensions underpin the film. The dad thinks the second son was inferior to the first, and the son doesn’t know whether he agrees. The second son has brought home his new wife, who has a child by a previous marriage. The daughter’s husband is a good-natured goof who is, of course, not good enough for the father.
Really, it’s the dad’s film, and actor Yoshio Harada plays him as a mountain of wounded pride masked by a thin mist of irritation and contempt. Since his eldest son is dead, the father can idealize him in all sorts of ways that allow him to maintain a sense of aloof superiority over everybody else. Which is just a way of dealing with his feelings of insecurity and mortality.
You see how that works? Japanese kitchen-sink dramas are just like ours—cooking scenes where mother and daughter can giggle and bond, the inevitable mano a mano confrontation between father and son—except, you know, starring Japanese people. Who aren’t medieval ninja demons with an ancient grudge to settle.