We always had plenty of presents around our Christmas tree each year and every now and then one of them would go unopened.
Usually the package had been pushed so far under the tree that it escaped our notice for a day or two. But it would eventually be discovered and if the gift happened to have your name on it, well, that really made the season bright.
I had a similar experience recently, although it had nothing to do with Christmas or wrapping paper. No, this particular present was a Japanese film called “Still Walking” that I had recorded a year or more ago and never watched--until now.
Night after night I would see the title listed on my DVR screen. I’d read the synopsis about a young man dealing with his aging parents and I always found something else to watch. I think the only reason I recorded it was because the film had a high rating from the Sundance Channel.
I had the film for so long that I seriously considered deleting the thing without viewing it. I’m trying to clear out the clutter in my apartment, my head, and, yes, my TV and this movie seemed like a prime candidate for extinction.
At least twice I had my thumb on the delete button, ready to send this movie off to digital oblivion.
C’mon, you’re never going to watch it, I told myself. Just get rid of the damn thing.
I might have actually zapped this movie sight unseen if it weren’t for Hurricane Sandy, which knocked out my TV service—except for the DVR.
My bad back has seriously curtailed my social life, so all those unwatched movies and TV shows I had recorded suddenly became a prime source of entertainment. And “Still Walking” turned out to be a beautiful gift waiting to be unwrapped.
I can’t remember the last time I enjoy a film so much. Writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda’s deceptively simple story focuses on a family coming together for a yearly visit marking the anniversary of the death of the oldest son, who drowned 15 years earlier while saving a child.
For Mature Audiences
Be warned. This film contains no CGI special effects, gratuitous sex scenes, mindless violence, costumed superheroes, or 3D explosions. I’m afraid that all “Still Walking” has to offer is fine writing, skilled acting, and solid directing. Hard to believe, no?
While the characters go through a great deal of emotional turmoil, there are none of the melodramatic screaming matches so painfully prevalent in American films.
The action here surges beneath the surface as the characters struggle with their pain, their guilt, and their inability to communicate with each other.
The main character, Ryo, is the second oldest son, living in the shadow of his older sibling’s memory. His father, a retired doctor, makes no attempt to disguise his profound disappointment in his son’s failure to follow in the old man’s footsteps.
Ryo’s mother carries the weight of her son’s loss quietly but the pain is unmistakable. In one heart-rendering scene, she becomes convinced that a wayward butterfly flitting around the house is actually her reincarnated child.
In another scene, the rescued child shows up to pay his respects to his savior’s family. He is now a grown man—overweight, sweaty, clumsy and devoid of any kind of direction in life.
When he stumbles out of the house after groveling before the dead man’s photo, Ryo’s father bitterly complains “my son died for that?”
The generation gap is never closed, as Ryo realizes that “I’ve always been a little too late,” but there is a hopeful ending. Luckily we’re spared the crocodile-tearful “I love you, man!” schtick that pollutes so many films nowadays.
It took a catastrophe for me to finally view this film and I am so glad I listened to my inner packrat. I backed off from the delete button, held on to the clutter, and finally opened my present.