Reminiscent of both Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story and Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata in tone, this Japanese family drama explores a day in the lives of relatives as they commemorate the death of a beloved son. Though Still Walking features little plot development, it boasts well-crafted characters and painfully honest dialogue. More than a decade after his death, Junpei still figures prominently the Yokoyama family's lives. A shrine to him has a prominent place in his parents' home, and stories about the young doctor's life pervade conversation. More significantly, his brother, 40-year-old Ryota (Hiroshi Abe, Chocolate), still struggles to escape Junpei's shadow in the eyes of his mother and father. Accompanied by his new wife, Yukari (Yui Natsukawa, Hana), and her ten-year-old son (Shohei Tanaka, also from Hana), Ryota reluctantly travels to his parents' house for the memorial, where he reunites with his sister, Chinami (You, Nobody Knows), and her family. The matriarch, Toshiko (Kirin Kiki, Tokyo Tower), often hilariously lectures everyone on a variety of topics, while her husband, Kyohei (Yoshio Harada, Hana), remains quiet and reclusive, emerging from silence only to criticize. Ryota is a frequent target of Kyohei's attacks since his doctor father is unhappy he chose to be an art restorer rather than take over the family business. As the relatives eat their way through the day and visit Junpei's grave, the audience learns that Junpei's accidental death 15 years ago isn't the only element threatening to tear the family apart.
Still Walking continues the themes of death, tragedy, and family that director Hirokazu Kore-eda established in previous films such as Hana, Nobody Knows, and Distance. His early documentary films also inform this drama's naturalistic feeling, which is buoyed by wonderful performances from everyone involved. Kore-eda has worked with a number of the film's actors -- Natsukawa, You, Tanaka, and Harada -- in his previous films, and these performers all provide authentic turns in their roles, even young Tanaka. As the film's center, Abe gives a remarkably human, layered performance in the role of Ryota, who is sympathetic but still flawed in his treatment of his family.
With Still Walking, Kore-eda is continuing his path as heir to the throne of revered Japanese auteur Ozu. This subtle, meditative film dwells in the details of the Yokoyama family's lives on this single day that is at once special and entirely ordinary. Nostalgia and melancholy reign in Still Walking, but moments of humor punctuate the pain with brilliant results.