Meet the Parents: Shades of Ozu Colour This Tender Family Portrait

Article excerpt

Still Walking (u)

dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Two pieces of advice regarding Still Walking, the new film from Hirokazu Kore-eda. First, be sure to see it. Second, be sure to eat before you do. Still Cooking might have been more apt a title; from the opening close-ups of carrot and daikon (a limb-like oriental radish) being sliced and the rinsing and salting of gleaming mung beans, the preparation and consumption of food is ceaseless. Just when you think supplies must be exhausted, a bowl of watermelon or a tray of sushi will be produced from nowhere, or someone will say: "Maybe I'll fix a snack." (It's charming that the actors have been directed to deliver some of their dialogue through stuffed mouths.) Add a soundtrack of soft voices, laughter and gently plucked acoustic guitar and you can no longer depend on Dolby bombast to disguise a growling stomach, as you can when watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Kore-eda is best known for his 1998 film After Life, which imagined a way station where the recently deceased go to finalise one memory that they want to retain for eternity. The director's masterstroke was to set the action in an empty school; this keen taste for the intimate and parochial must be one of the reasons his picture retains its buoyancy while Wim Wenders's similar but more self-consciously profound Wings of Desire feels earthbound.

Still Walking is even better. Once again, Kore-eda nurtures expansive drama from a modest setting. This is a wide-reaching film of tiny gestures, barely perceptible tensions and unnoticed heartbreak, based around that dependably fraught ritual, the family get-together. Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), an art restorer who is between jobs, is taking his wife, Yukari (Yui Natsukawa), and her young son, Atsushi (Shohei Tanaka), to the home of his elderly parents. On the surface, all is tranquillity and smiles. But Ryota, suspecting he has been second best to his family since the death of his brother, Junpei, 12 years earlier, begrudges the visit. And both his mother, Toshiko (Kirin Kiki), and his father, Kyohei (Yoshio Harada), a retired doctor, have been grumbling privately over his choice of a widow as a bride. "He didn't have to go for a used model," snipes Toshiko in a warm, melodious voice that only intensifies the poison of the sentiment. …