COMING-OF-AGE films can be an interesting view and with Still the Water, a Japanese Palme d’Or nominee from last year’s Cannes Film festival, this belief is reflected somewhat albeit with some structural choices that make this a relatively polarizing feature.
Beginning with the discovery of a body in the sea, the film focuses on teenage Kaito (Nijiro Murakami) whose discovery of such puts him arguably in an early-life crisis, as he gradually begins to understand the world around him. With his girlfriend Kyoko (Jun Yoshinaga) he is guided through this and is introduced to the varieties of life on the island they live on, specifically those around located near the sea.
As the film progresses, we see differing sequences take place in his life that contribute to the film’s ideology of exploring aspects of love, life and death.
Kaito meets up with his tattooist father and over a meal at a restaurant listens as his father explains why he and his mother are not together, but how father and son will always be.
Kyoko’s mother is dying and the subsequent preparation culminates in a song she likes being played out by those close to her on her deathbed in a seven-minute sequence. It is following this that Kaito’s relationship with his mother becomes strained as he observes the love of Kyoko’s parents and expresses frustration as to why his mother is involved in the situation her and Kaito’s father are in.
Imagery is crucial to the film and there are occasions when director Naomi Kawase not too frequently, but sporadically crafts a sense of beauty with sequences depicting characters swimming underwater. With such moments depicted, Kawase brings to mind scenes from Michael Powell’s Age of Consent and Luc Besson’s The Big Blue with her usage of underwater filming, often passing as an exceeding metaphor for escapism.
One particular sequence that stands as an interesting look at how the relationship between Kaito and Kyoko is documented comes during a bike ride where Kyoko, heavily resting on Kaito’s shoulders inadvertently falls off the bicycle. As he asks if she is hurt, she deliberately lies face-down on the floor and simply responds ‘‘My heart.’’ Watching the relationship between these two who are connected someway by imperfect family structures is a welcome dynamic as it denotes that one needs the other in their life and vice versa.
The film does though have its elements of flaws, in that times go by when the interest does wane occasionally. As the film pushes into its second third, it stops being a good film and turns into an ok film. Whilst scenes pass that offer a measured level of humanistic drama through its study of complex family relations or usage of imagery-driven sequences, the fact that it only becomes interesting to watch on sporadic occasions rather than consistently stops it from becoming a good film outright.
Though its characters are interesting to watch as are various actions, the dialogue sequences come across occasionally as long-winded and they tend to appeal on one level before drifting to another that lacks a general vibrancy.
For instance, a conversation about sea waves towards the end does not have a good enough depth to stand on its own. By contrast, an earlier scene shows Kaito uncomfortably observing a goat slaughter with his girlfriend, one of two such graphic scenes depicted in the film. Upon listening to its dying groans he simply asks how long it will take, providing a solemn reaction that successfully expresses the lifestyle and unease the young Kaito lives under by contrast of that of his peers, an allegory for teenage disillusionment.