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Where EAST meets the Northwest

BITTERSWEET REUNION. Director Hirokazu Kore-Edaís Still Walking explores the quiet secrets, regrets, and resentments trapped at the heart of a seemingly tidy Japanese family reuniting for the 15th anniversary of the death of one of the sons. Pictured are (L-R) Yui Natsukawa as Yukari, Kirin Kiki as Toshiko Yokoyama, Shohei Tanaka as Yukariís son, and Hiroshi Abe as Ryota Yokoyama. (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

From The Asian Reporter, V19, #48 (December 8, 2009), page 11.

Not your typical family portrait

Still Walking

Directed by Hirokazu Kore-Eda

Produced by Kazumi Kawashiro, Yutaka Shigenobu, and Takeo Hisamatsu

Distributed by IFC Films

Opens December 11 at Portlandís Hollywood Theatre

By Maileen Hamto

Stories about family gatherings often take the tone of irreverence and hilarity on one end of the scale and extreme angst and bitterness on the other. Itís a rare film that reveals characters whose fears and frustrations about familial relationships are both realistic and comprehensible.

And that is what is absolutely splendid about the 2009 IFC release Still Walking ó the realism and depth displayed by each of the characters goes beyond the overly comic, or the exhaustingly melodramatic. Writer and director Hirokazu Kore-Eda shows his deep affection for each of the characters and excels in painting an unstuffy family portrait without touching up age spots and imperfections.

Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), the 40-year-old prodigal son of the family, is visiting his elderly parents Kyohei and Toshiko Yokoyama (Yoshio Harada and Kirin Kiki, respectively). Joining him are his new wife Yukari, a widow (Yui Natsukawa), and her 10-year-old son from a previous marriage (Shohei Tanaka). Only his elderly parents now live in the house, which once doubled as a flourishing medical clinic.

The rare family reunion is brought about by the 15th anniversary of the loss of the eldest son, Junpei, who was set to take over the patriarchís medical practice. Much of the familyís most memorable (often stinging) exchanges occur in the tatami room, in the presence of the altar devoted to the departed son.

Impeccable dialogue throughout the film unwraps shared heartaches and isolated grief that has engulfed the aging parents. Both remain unapologetic about their deeply held bitterness over the passing of their favorite son. One almost feels sorry for these two old people, who appear to have lived in the shadow of despair every single day of the 15 years since Junpeiís passing.

Itís hard to ignore the underpinnings of culturally dictated gender roles and norms. Patriarch Kyohei, who has long been retired, still keeps the sign of the family clinic outside their front door. He keeps pills and medications in the old examination room. Ryota, a painting restorer, couldnít bring himself to tell his father he is unemployed. Toshiko, the matriarch, has never worked outside the home, a lifestyle that seems alien even to her own daughter. We learn of the familyís misgivings about Yukari, Ryotaís new wife, only because she had been married before.

The Yokoyamas also betray the traditional Asian familyís preference for their sons. The daughter, Chinami, is married to a car salesman and has two young children. She talks about moving into the family home, asserting that itís best for her parents to live with her in their old age. Mother dismisses the idea, and only after Chinamiís family leaves does she confide in Ryota: She doesnít want Chinamiís family with them, because it would make it harder for Ryotaís family to move in.

A movie as rich, deep, and introspective as Still Walking is not made every day. Itís a story about a father and son who never saw eye to eye as much as it is a story about an aging couple who live together but live separate lives. Itís a story about women still struggling to assert independence and respect in modern Japan. In the end, the melancholy, honesty, and sincerity of unvarnished familial relationships ó complete with abandoned aspirations and unfulfilled potential ó are among the best leave-behinds.

Still Walking opens Friday, December 11 at the Hollywood Theatre, located at 4122 N.E. Sandy Boulevard in Portland. For more information, including complete dates and showtimes, call (503) 281-4215 or visit <www.filmaction.org>.