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MIFF09 review: STILL WALKING (dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda)

still walking

Review by Conall Cash (catabloguing.wordpress.com)

Lately it seems like every year a new film shows up that either proclaims itself or is proclaimed by the most audible voices in criticism as an hommage to the films of Yasujiro Ozu. The latest is Still Walking, by Hirokazu Kore-eda, but already in that act of naming its director we notice something that immediately distinguishes this film from the crowd. Ozu adoration takes on many forms, produces very different effects – sublimity in Hou Hsaio-hsien; devastating pathos in Aki Kaurismaki; mysticist mediocrity in Wim Wenders; inert banality in Vincent Gallo – but it is almost never, interestingly, to be seen in the work of a Japanese filmmaker. Ozu’s body of work is so fundamental to the history of Japanese cinema that inevitably it has been ‘internalized’; just as no Hollywood director can entirely evade the influence of John Ford or Howard Hawks, no Japanese filmmaker can make a film that is not ‘after Ozu,’ inflected by his influence upon how cinema is made in Japan. What this typically means is that, unlike foreign directors who respond to particular, individual attributes of Ozu’s cinema – his unmoving, low-to-the-floor camera setups; his expression of the passing of time and of the generations through the visual motif of the changing seasons; or his achievement of meaning through indirection, with complex and painful emotions and ideas conveyed through mundane everyday conversation – a Japanese filmmaker is unlikely to consider these as isolatable, individually definable elements, but rather as constitutive of the very cinematic air he or she naturally breathes. Great Japanese cinema has been made by positively vomiting up this influence, performing a kind of self-asphyxiation rather than permitting this air to enter the lungs, eviscerating its every molecule in the pursuit of new forms – see the films of Shohei Imamura. Kore-eda’s achievement with Still Walking, on the other hand, is effectively to have found a way to breathe the air of Ozu afresh, to reconcile the foundational, inalienably Japanese Ozu with the versions of him found in his foreign disciples; to make a film that is simultaneously a conscious hommage and that takes itself seriously as living, breathing cinema, with responsibilities towards its own identity and those of its characters. Continue reading

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