DIR/WRI: Naomi Kawase • PRO: Takehiko Aoki, Naomi Kawase, Masa Sawada • DOP: Yutaka Yamazaki • ED: Tina Baz, Naomi Kawase • MUS: Hashiken • CAST: Nijiro Murakami • Jun Yoshinaga • Miyuki Matsuda • Tetta Sugimoto • Makiko Watanabe • Fujio Tokita
With her latest film Still the Water, Japanese writer and director Naomi Kawase sets her story on the island community of Amami-Oshima, where a romance blossoms between two teenagers in the aftermath of a severe typhoon and the discovery of a drowned, tattooed man in its wake. Both Kyoko (Jun Yoshinaga) and Kaito (Nijiro Murakami) have complicated home lives. Kaito lives in a single parent household, looking after himself for the most part whilst his mother works long hours. Kyoko, on the other hand, is struggling with the knowledge that her mother is dying. Jun Yoshinaga is brilliantly cast as Kyoko, a compelling blend of wide eyed, wet behind the ears eagerness and a deeply buried though ever present wisdom beyond her years.
Less successful, however, is the character of Kaito, whose mumbling, disinterested persona is less brooding than it is mind numbingly tedious. Whilst there is undeniably an intended clash of sorts between Kyoko’s sunny disposition and Kaito’s sullen nature, the longer the film drags on the less convinced one becomes that Kyoko would have any interest at all in this dull as dishwater boy next door.
To say that Still the Water is a slow burner would be something of an understatement. Kawase simply isn’t particularly preoccupied with moving the story along, preferring instead to dwell on extended shots of nature, often combined with the philosophical musings of the various characters that make up the small island community as well as Kyoko and Kaito’s families.
The settlement of Amami-Oshima is undeniably beautiful and the recurring imagery of the waves, underwater dives and swaying trees lends the film a pensive and melancholy feel. This, however, descends into drudgery when the supporting characters start relaying vague truisms to their young charges resulting in a middle third that causes the film to slow to a near interminable pace. Fujio Tokita as an elderly local fisherman and Miyuki Matsuda as Kyoko’s ailing mother are particularly guilty of this, their half-baked wisdom and long pauses sucking the life out of the film. Kyoko’s father is a bright spot though, a practical and wisecracking fisherman and bar proprietor whose laid back demeanour is wonderfully at odds with the wishy-washy temperaments of his similarly aged castmates.
Despite its frequent dreary and uneventful stretches, there are enough individually arresting scenes in Kawase’s film to sustain the interest, a series of bike rides featuring the young couple at the film’s centre and a quick jaunt over to the mainland where Kaito visits his estranged tattooist father amongst them. Whilst the film itself never quite takes off dramatically when it needs to, it rather surprisingly picks itself up for its final ten minutes, bringing together its seemingly disparate threads for an ending that though not very interesting from a thematic point of view, climaxes in a visually spectacular and emotionally satisfying final few moments. Ultimately what we have here is a film that believes itself blessed with an abundance of style and substance but is noticeably lacking in the latter.
Still the Water is released 3rd July 2015