STILL THE WATER (France/Japan/Spain/IFI/121mins)
Directed by Naomi Kawase. Starring Nijiro Murakami, Jun Yoshinaga, Miyuki Matsuda, Tetta Sugimoto, Makiko Watanabe, Jun Murakami, Hideo Sakaki.
THE PLOT: When teenager Kaito (Murakami) discovers the naked, tattooed corpse of a man, it sends shockwaves through the subtropical island community. Most are concerned how a dead body might be bad for business, but Kaito quickly has bigger fish to fry – his girlfriend, Kyoko (Yoshinaga), is none too happy that he had ran from their seaside meeting spot the night before. Then again, it’s clear that Kaito is hardly Barry White – when Kyoko tells him that she loves him, Kaito merely replies, “Thanks”. The fact that the two have largely absent or ill parents would suggest these teenagers need one another, but love of any sort rarely runs smoothly. Besides, there’s the mystery of that dead guy to get back to at some point as well…
THE VERDICT: Cannes favourite Kawase takes a step away from her grandiose earlier outings, such as 2007’s THE MOURNING FOREST and 2003’s SHARA, for this stripped-down subtropical tale that, as expected, is beautiful to look at but, thanks to a flat script, hard to love.
It’s one of those films where you know there are layers upon layers of meaning in even the slightest gesture, but the simple truth is, you often get the impression that STILL THE WATER doesn’t quite know what it’s doing. For all the beauty, and all the teen angst, and the noir bookend, STILL THE WATER feels, well, a little shallow.
RATING: 3/5
Review by Paul Byrne

Still The Water
Review by Paul Byrne
3.0A little shallow
  • filmbuff2011

    The awkwardly-titled Still The Water is a Japanese film that meditates on mortality, youth and old age and the endless motions of the sea. On the island of Amami, teenager Kaito (Nijiro Murakami) finds the body of a dead man after a typhoon. He tells his friend Kyoko (Jun Yoshinaga), a girl who has taken a liking to him. They both have to deal with disrupted and dysfunctional family lives. Kaito lives with his mother and occasionally visits his father in the bright lights and big city of Tokyo. Kyoko’s mother is ill and her father looks after them both. ‘Why are people born and then die?’ asks Kyoko at one stage. Kaito doesn’t have the answers, since he’s making the transition into an adult world that he doesn’t really understand, or is perhaps unprepared for. Another typhoon approaches the island – one that will affect the lives of these two hopeful teenagers… Made mostly with European funding, Still The Water is sub-titled ‘un film de Naomi Kawase’. It has the air of a European art film, like something that the French or Italians would make. But it also feels very Japanese, as it reflects on death and the cycle of everyday life in the way that only the Japanese can do. In that sense, it recalls the works of Yasujiro Ozu – particularly Tokyo Story in its depictions of modern family life. Kawase coaxes impressive, naturalistic performances from her young leads. Kaito at one point lashes out at his mother for her perceived lack of morality. This is a world where adults are more promiscuous than teenagers – an interesting role reversal. Kaito’s turbulent emotions are neatly encapsulated in the metaphor of the stormy sea footage, of which there is plenty. This is a beautifully shot and tender film about growing up. However, Kawase never really digs deep enough for the characters, preferring instead to leave them as sketches rather than fully formed. It’s also a little overlong. There’s still much to admire here though. Japanese films can be quite mad at times (e.g. the films of Shion Sono), but this one is in a more contemplative and artistic mood. ***