Review: Still The Water (2014)
Naomi Kawase’s highly-anticipated Still The Water movie made its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 2014. The story takes place on the subtropical Japanese island Amami Oshima where our main figures and the people surrounding them come face to face with various phases of the cycle of life such as love, life itself, death and the way you treasure the moments that appear on your very own path and how you interact with others upon crossroads on your given time here on earth. Of course nature and the surrounding environment are not separated from the figures in Still The Water as traditions and nature still play their own part upon local people and consist of an integral part of their daily lives.
The roaring waves forge an ominous scenery that is only a glimpse of the forthcoming storm. The calm after the storm is being followed by a goat sacrifice and it’s probably part of the island’s tradition to ease the imposing face of nature. A tough scene nevertheless that is not for everyone, although it possesses an aura of past times . During nighttime a traditional full moon fiesta with ecstatic singing and dancing follows. In the meantime, Kaito, the 16 years old boy of our story, finds the dead body of a man by the sea who is related to his mother, Misaki, as we’ll find out later.
Cinematography and the visuals depicted on screen play an important part of Still The Water. Amami Oshima is an island that could be referred to as heaven on earth as we witness the bright afternoons, the proud mountains standing still, the calmness of the ocean, the wind blowing through the trees’ branches and the overall scenery including the sky. Although hell on earth seems to break loose when typhoons strike the shore and everything’s simply at the mercy of nature. “You have to keep a humble attitude towards nature, it’s pointless to resist it.” You have to adore all the idyllic landscapes that pass before your very eyes and even when the weather’s dreary the whole scenery holds a dissonant beauty of its own.
Spoilers ahead, proceed at your own risk. Kyoko is the 16 years old girl in our story and during such a fragile age she has to endure the forthcoming death of her mother, Isa, who’s suffering from a terminal illness. Isa is a local shaman and rhetorical questions arise, such as why do people die and in their search for answers, Kyoko and Kaito keep living their everyday lives learning step by step about love, life and death. Kyoko is an extrovert person and she’s not afraid to express her feelings to Kaito who’s more of an introvert person, he doesn’t talk much and keeps his thoughts deep inside, like the secrets that lie underneath the waves. “The sea is scary, it’s alive” he confesses to Kyoko that could be a philosophical equivalent of the traumas he’s been keeping for himself due to his parents’ divorce and the relationships with other men his mother used to have. Kyoko loves the sea and the scene in which she’s swimming in her school uniform is beautiful. She’s not afraid of the sea that lies within Kaito either, she’d willingly swim in his waters to help him ease the pain deep inside and release himself from all this burden.
Their bicycling moments with her relying on his shoulders as they wander around the island are utterly beautiful, even when she falls she’s got the strength to utter that the only part of her body that’s hurting is her heart. As she confesses her feelings to Kaito and kisses him, her stare is penetrating all the way, even if he can’t stare back at her and closes his eyes, her eyes won’t surrender. In contradiction to the island’s tranquility and beauty of nature (of course when the weather’s not fierce), Kaito pays a visit to his father who’s living in Tokyo.
There’s energy here in Tokyo that you can’t find elsewhere. There’s a kind of warmth that you only find in Tokyo. Not that I’ve traveled all around the world, but here in Tokyo… it’s not anything physical, that’s not what I mean. But I sense a kind of abundance. I still sense that. I’m always busy, it tires me out, time just passes quickly. But even so, it’s a city that boosts my desire to express myself.
The scenery’s a lot noisier, but Atsushi and Kaito have their beautiful and sincere father-son moments in which Atsushi depicts his thoughts on the divorce with Misaki, fate, emotions, fulfillment. Naomi Kawase gives a strength of its own on the fact that despite the divorce nothing’s going to change the fact that they are father and son. It’s one of the aspects she emphasizes on Still The Water, the bonded by blood relations of parent and child, same goes to Isa and her daughter Kyoko, even in death, nothing can sever their ties.
The second goat sacrifice, no matter how tough the scene may be with the goat’s soul slowly departing from its body, in my eyes works as a lesson to Kyoko. By witnessing a life passing away, it’s probably to be prepared for her mother’s death which is on the horizon. Old man Kame works as a catalyst between questions that are omnipresent through the whole movie’s duration, he doesn’t offer answers, he either strengthens the overall mystery with his thoughts or offers through his memories picture-evoking thoughts.
Is that you, Kyoko? For a moment, I mistook you for your great-grandmother. You really look like her. She was tall like you, with fine features. She was a real beauty. Whenever I go to sea, when I go to the hills, when I go to the fields, I always see her. Your great-grandmother is very pleased to see you grow into a young woman.
At the shadow of forthcoming death, we witness pure and beautiful family moments as if death got wiped out of the scenery because it’s not how much you live, it’s how much you value your time on earth as a living organism. Kyoko plays a traditional 3-chord instrument, the sanshin, and sings as Toru dances in his very own way. I’m not quite sure whether Isa is prepared to die and leave this world behind, but she’s offering the best of herself in order not to hurt Toru and Kyoko even more by seeing her sad. The fact that she’s a shaman could work as an alibi to give her loved ones the impression that everything’s going to be alright even if she departs from this world and they shouldn’t worry. On the other hand, she could be really feeling that way as she was mentally ready to pass unto higher plains. Another part of Toru’s love towards Isa has to be the fact that when she left the hospital, he wanted her bed to be placed that way so that she could witness without obstacles the perennial banyan tree outside of their house whenever she’d stare out of the window.
Isa, as her dying wish wants to hear Ikyun Nyakana, a traditional song that appears every now and then in the movie, for the last time. Kyoko can’t take her eyes away from her, that girl has definitely a penetrating stare filled with emotion and affection, but also pain, depending on the moment. As the August dance begins, Isa tries to dance in her own way with her arms while bedridden and she’s smiling as the others sing. Toru tries to participate as much as he can in such an overburdened moment. As she’s staring at the banyan tree for the last she utters that her mother has come for her and the last tear flows down her face after she has confessed that she’s happy and thankful to Kyoko. Autumn breeze is finally here, so are the raging waves and the shimmering wind; half moon in the night sky.
Kyoko seeks comfort in Kaito’s arms and she wants to proceed to the next phase of intimate relationship with him, but he doesn’t want to. Instead he’s going home to face his mother (and probably some of his demons) and seek answers why she broke up with his father and why she’s having affairs with other men, one of them being the man that had drowned; he had witnessed them making love with his own eyes. After the quarrel he leaves home and when he comes back he can’t find his mother and he can’t even reach her on the phone. The gloomy weather and the forthcoming typhoon leads him at Toru and Kyoko’s house. Toru offers a heartfelt monologue in which you have to deeply adore the way he compares Isa to the best wave of his life. Toru’s words would make him rush the next day to find her and witness that she was fine.
You know, Kaito, waves swallow up all sorts of things. It’s an awesome thing. When we surf, we take on the last stage of a wave that was born far offshore. To become one with that wave. Because it’s the last moment, it has an incredibly powerful energy. Then, when you receive that force with your entire body, for a moment it turns into nothingness. Nothingness, or stillness. In any case, there is a sense that everything, including yourself, is absolutely quiet. Isa is gone now. But her energy was the best. The wave named Isa was to me, in my life, the best wave ever. Kaito, do you remember when you first came to the island? Your family had broken down. Can you imagine how hard that was for Misaki? But you know, Kaito… the source of her energy is you, yourself. So I don’t think she’s done anything rash.
My mother died. She’s gone home forever now.
Kyoko sings the lament by the sea. The calm after the storm is omnipresent, the flooded scenery as well. Even if we witness the devastated by the wind, the rain and the flood trees, there are signs of life on their brunches struggling their way back into the cycle of life. And there, by their roots, a love blossoms as Kyoko and Kaito cherish each other intertwined and fulfilled in one entity. The swimming scene is beauteous and of high value on its own, there’s a sense of freedom and tranquility, devoid of burdens and with peace of mind they swim inside the waters of renewal.
I liked how we get to know the characters only by their name, no surnames were needed, that way the audience could feel them closer and the more you get to know them the more you understand the emotions flowing deep inside, but also their actions. There’s no need to reach an answer to all questions that would come to the surface while watching Still The Water, it’s like the sea, you can know her up to an extent, but you will never know in completion everything that lies underneath the waters. And i loved how the water was always present one way or another, through presence and absence, through the sea and through the rain, through the flooded landscape and through the clouds that would become rain, through the calm or the rough sea, through the tears and through life in general as it’s part of its cycle. Naomi Kawase composed a soulful testimony accompanied bravely by the whole cast behind and in front of the cameras. Jun Yoshinaga is bound to become a great actress in the future, her stare in Still The Water was one of her most powerful cards. And so as to conclude, “as with serenity, so with sorrow. None of them can be measured.”