In writer/director Kore-eda Hirokazu's "Still Walking" we get a fly on the wall perspective of an extended Japanese family still working out the kinks of marriage, parenthood, retribution and the ever-present tug of loss.
It is an exquisitely subtle film with its beautiful imagery of rural and urban Japan, thanks to Hirokazu's longtime cinematographer Yutaka Yamazaki, its seamless introduction to universal familial issues and how the silence of its characters move the story as much as their dialogue.
Joined by his new wife and her young son, 40-year-old Ryo (Hiroshi Abe) reluctantly makes the train trek to his parents' house by the seaside for a family reunion. His father, a retired doctor (Yoshio Harada) is the picture of stoicism and his son's lack of direction and lack of interest in resuscitating the family clinic adds to his consternation. Ryo's mother, marvelously portrayed by Kirin Kiki, is just glad that the family will be together again.
But upon arrival, old wounds begin to fester and new issues arise, such as Ryo's mother putting in her two cents on when and whether Ryo and his wife, Yukari (Yui Natsukawa), should have a baby at their age. Ryo also worries about his aging parents, who will take care of them? Is it his responsibility? Can't he just live his own life without feeling guilty?
But by far, the biggest elephant in the room is Junpei, Ryo's older brother who was killed 15 years ago while trying to save a child from drowning. The family unable to get over the loss of the scion destined to succeed and take over dad's clinic. So unforgiving is the mother that she all but forces the saved child, now a young man, to visit their home as penance and to remind him what his life cost her.
That said, there is genuine love flowing in this family even with each of their faults. They are glad Ryo is alive and married. Ryo and his step son begin to bond. Ryo's mother shows his wife how to make her special tempura, and Ryo, his father and his step-son make a tri-generation trip to the beach to reflect.
The futility of regret is an issue that Hirokazu seems to be exploring, something that stems from the recent loss of both his parents. Beginning as a series of if onlys, "Still Walking" finishes by savoring the time we are able to share.
Opens Friday, Oct. 9, Varsity Theatre at 4329 University Way N.E. - (206) 781-5755.