It was part of a Koreeda boxed set that I got for Christmas - I'd forgotten I'd put it down as a suggestion, based on reading something over a year ago that made me think I simply must watch this man's films, and since forgotten, so it was a nice surprise. The other films in the boxed set are After Life (1998), Nobody Knows (2004) and Air Doll (2009).
Still Walking is the story of a family that get together for a memorial to the eldest son who, we gradually learn, drowned fifteen years previously when he went into the sea to rescue a young boy. There are two grown-up children left, Hiroshi, who has married a young widow with a son, and Chinami, who has a husband and two children.
The family come home to their parents, the father a retired doctor who has lost both his heir and his purpose in life, and a probably fairly typical elderly Japanese mother, serving, fussing over her children, commenting on their lifestyle choices, and cooking, complaining and loving the rare gathering of her clan.
The film is peaceful and undramatic, but full of beautiful moments: the tension between the father and the younger, surviving son, who has failed to live up to expectations; the young widow's little boy, quietly trying to make sense of his own father's death; the uncomfortable annual visit of the boy (now man) whose life was saved by the dead son (and the mother's admission of why she continues to invite him); the yellow butterfly; the conversations; the gentle humour.
And the ending. I won't spoil it, but it brought an unexpected tear, though not a sad one. Well, maybe a bit - Hiroshi, it seems, could only be himself once his own parents had passed away, freed of his role as second son. Various aspects of this film will resonate with most people in different ways - something recognisable for everyone.
The whole film immediately brought to mind the great director Yasujiro Ozu, in setting, theme, style and mood, particularly Tokyo Story (see my review here). It even has a role, in the young widow (played by Yui Natsukawa), that would have fitted Setsuko Hara perfectly. I look forward to seeing the remaining Koreeda films, even if it might take a little while.