Directed by Naomi Kawase
Country: Japan / others
Under the direction of the little-known Japanese filmmaker, Naomi Kawase (also credited as screenwriter, producer, and editor), “Still the Water” moves using a languid pace and embraces a strange intimacy.
Set on one of the limestone islands of the Amani archipelago, it tells the story of a quiet 16-year-old kid, Kaito (Nijiro Murakami), who’s not happy with his mother, disapproving her behavior since his father left home a few years before. It’s not that she’s not gentle or cares about him, but because the most of her time is spent with lovers and not much is left to her son, who often wanders alone or hangs out with his best friend, Kyoko (Jun Yoshinaga).
The film’s opening scene leads us to foresee a mysterious tale that never actually happens.
During one night of traditional festivity, Kaito finds the body of a back-tattooed man floating on the waters of the seashore. This incident becomes the talk of the population who wonder if it was an accident or a crime, and if the man was a tourist or one of the common surfers that come to the island. The curiosity comes from Kaito’s strange behavior that indicates he knows this man from somewhere.
The sincere friendship between Kaito and Kyoko tends to evolve into a beautifully affecting love, but Kaito’s problems hamper him from diving completely in a full physical relationship. Kyoko has also problems of her own since her mother, a shaman who stands on the threshold of Gods and humans, is dying sick. Her father, a man of the sea and experienced surfer, offers all his support and love, enabling a family cohesion that Kaito lacks, even when occasionally contacting with his likable father, a tattoo artist now living in Tokyo.
A sweet sensitivity streams from the images, even from the most painful ones - those related to death - in a film that is culturally strong in its dual elements of life and death, family and love, Gods and humans, and nature and reason. However, and despite some impactful moments presented over tranquil landscapes and at the sound of melancholic piano tunes, I found certain parts not only long and occasionally vacillating, but also intricate in its philosophical considerations. Sort of lost in translation.
Patient viewers may be able to find something worthy to dig out from this cryptic coming-of-age drama.