I saw this months ago at the San Francisco International Film Festival. It’s no longer fresh in my mind, but sometimes it’s better to let things ruminate and settle. Hirokazu Kore-eda has a strong critical following and for many, a new picture is a much-anticipated event. My attachment to his work is a little shakier.

Two of his earlier movies, Nobody Knows and Maborosi, are painstakingly beautiful. The first is about a group of young siblings left to fend for themselves and the second is about a widowed woman trying to understand her former husband’s death in the midst of accepting a new life. People who really grasp the emotion and realism of the pictures swear by them, to others, they’re simply too slow. Nobody Knows is, in my book, unforgettable.

For many things in life, failure is a definite and awful threat, but success is a spread out, subjective and altogether murky oasisThere is this trend in independent filmmaking to use long takes, natural lighting, minimal editing, and very carefully framed shots to tell stories (or sometimes, in lieu of telling stories). Some recent examples would be Lake Tahoe out of Mexico and Eldorado out of Belgium. Richard Brody talks a little about this phenomenon in a blog post. He’s right that this is nothing new, but there does seem to be a thread of thinking among directors that this is the way to make sophisticated movies. As soon as people see that thread, they start tugging on it, and the strategy starts to fray.

I’ve long thought that it was the East Asian directors who did this best. Hou Hsiao Hsien and Jia Zhangke being my favorite examples. Kore-eda fits in with the best of them and proves that, for the time being, there’s still hope for the minimal, contemplative, and carefully framed approach.

Still Walking is a deliberation on domestic politics. For many things in life, failure is a definite and awful threat, but success is a spread out, subjective and altogether murky oasis. The young man who comes home to a weekend with the family has to weigh his own relative satisfaction against the expectations of his chronically dissatisfied parents. This is a common trope, but a past death in the family and plenty of nuanced interpersonal conflicts set Still Walking above common “you can’t go home again” ground.

Kore-eda has a special attention to detail that makes his films feel genuine. He fuses an intensity to inanimate objects. He makes a regular day melt under the weight of the sun. He lets children be themselves. These are qualities that help make his films feel timeless. The problem with timeless movies is that with nothing momentous to tie them down, they can be easy to forget. For such a heartfelt and deliberate movie, I sincerely wish I remembered it better.

Still Walking plays for one week only at The Lumiere Theater. Starts Friday, September 4. Info.

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