STILL THE WATER – Review by Liz Braun

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

Nature and spirituality centre the quiet drama of Still The Water, writer/director Naomi Kawase’s 2014 feature covering life, death and the whole damn thing.

Kawase’s film unfolds in a slow and languorous fashion, leading with hypnotic visuals of the ocean and the landscape of the Japanese island of Amami-Oshima, where the director has family ties.

The movie begins, however, with wild ocean footage of typhoon-whipped waves, a stunning visual followed by a brutal scene of animal slaughter, perhaps a nod at the hard side of nature.

At the centre of the tale are a 16-year-old girl Kyoko (Jun Yoshinaga) and her moody classmate Kaito (Nijiro Murakami), a boy the same age. They are just at the point of crossing into adult life.

Despite the island paradise where they live, Kaito is afraid of the ocean and withdrawn in general, and he seems not to notice that Kyoko is in love with him.

She is far more mature than he is.

One night Kaito is horrified to see a dead body in the ocean, the corpse of a man with a distinctive tattoo on his back. At school, the students are warned not to swim in the ocean until it’s known how the man died, but Kyoko — a bit of a mermaid — is then seen swimming underwater in her school uniform. It’s all vaguely dream-like.

Kyoko’s maturity may have come at a cost. She has grown up fast because her mother, a shaman, is gravely ill. There is a particularly bittersweet scene when a hospital bed is moved into the family home for the dying mother, Kyoko’s father making sure the bed is placed so his wife can gaze out the window at an ancient banyan tree.

While Kyoko deals with the finality of death, Kaito struggles with family issues stemming from his parents’ divorce. His father is far away in Tokyo; he lives with his hard-working mother on the island. That his mother is a sexual being is a deeply troubling reality for Kaito, who struggles with that knowledge.

Still The Water seems to be treading water at times, given its pace and its meandering storytelling, and all the talk of death and love and spirituality and nature is sometimes confusing.

The film is always engaging to look at, but the characters seem involved in a search for meaning that leads nowhere.

That might be the point.

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 0 Flares ×

Liz Braun

Liz Braun has contributed entertainment stories in print and on radio and TV in Canada for 30 years. She served as film critic for the Toronto Sun and for the Postmedia chain of newspapers.