Friday, March 19, 2010

Aruitemo Aruitemo / Still Walking (2008)

There's almost always a subtle interplay of foreground and background, verbal and visual, in this gentle, perceptive and slightly unsettling family drama from Kore-Eda Hirokazu.

After the rather camera-aware performances in Hush, we were beguiled by the sense of watching this gathering in Yokosuka from behind a two-way mirror, invisible to its members and yet somehow sharing their experience of this summer's day and the night that follows, affected as they are by its geniality, its painful undercurrents, its longeurs.

Ryo, self-styled 'second eldest son' is taking his new wife (a widow) and her son to the annual gathering where his parents mark the death of the heir they really wanted.

Part of the ritual is for Ryo's father — a retired doctor — to make his son feel inadequate compared to the talented sibling who died saving a child from drowning. But the real passive-aggressive cruelty is directed at the fat kid that child has become (also required to attend), so that once a year he too can experience the ugly emotions of Junpei's realtives. Ryo senses that the resentments they feel vis-a-vis this survivor are actually compounding the collective anguish, but is unable to persuade his mother against persisting with this additional invitation.

The cleverness of Kore-Eda's film likes in the careful progression (and containment) of this scenario, achieved in part by subtle shifts in camera location and the juxtaposition of different gender and generational perspectives on the import of it all (often by setting up those aforementioned verbal and visual intersections).

One scene particularly resonated: where Ryo's mother was looking inside a chest of drawers for stuff to give her somewhat unwanted new daughter-in-law (she's observed earlier to Ryo's congenial sister that it's better to marry a divorced woman than a widow, because at least the divorcee chose to leave her husband) — an act of ungenerous generosity, which is ultimately voided by her failure to leave out a pair of pijamas for Ryo's adopted son.

"Next time let's not stay the night," is pretty much the first thing Ryo's wife says after waving goodbye to the in-laws through the windows of the bus.

Grade: A(--)

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