Still the Water



Sadly underrated, Kawase Naomi’s profoundly original work is quintessentially Japanese but also universal.


In 2008 the filmmaker Kawase Naomi visted the Japanese island of Amami-Oshima which had been the home of her ancestors. Now it has become the location, superbly used, for this film written and directed by her and photographed in colour and ’Scope by Yamazaki Yutaka. Indeed, it cannot be overstressed that the whole film is rooted in this place, a work about human existence and the various beliefs that have grown up around it in that part of the world. As such it is specific to the time and place, yet it is also meaningful in a general way because all of us ask questions about our existence. Still the Water is poetic, unhurried and in many ways unique, even if it did remind me of the 2010 film Poetry made in Korea.

Still the Water

Nature will out: Murakami Nijirô and Yoshinaga Jun


At the start the image of a rough sea illustrates how powerful a force nature can be and we then move on to a calm beach view followed by a scene that suggests the natural presence of death as an old man kills a goat. He does so in a way that, being customary on the island, suggests an acceptance of death as an inevitable element in the circle of life, and in that respect human beings are in no different place than the animals. A character is soon heard pondering on life, on why we are born and why we die.

In accordance with the dictum that cinema is an art that should not tell but show, Still the Water uses faces and body language more than words to indicate the growing bond between two teenagers, Kaito and Kyoto, who are central figures here. We soon get to know the families of both of them. Indeed it is Kyoto’s dying mother, Isa, who leads us into scenes contemplating the nature of death and of the gods. Part of what is expressed here is the notion of something remaining that can be passed on, be it from father to son or mother to daughter. The scene of Isa happy as she faces death is the most remarkable in a film that admittedly develops sub-plots that can slightly puzzle one (this applies at times to Kaito’s concerns about his mother’s possible sexual involvement with a stranger, this arising because she had been deserted by the boy’s father). Critical reactions appear to have been coloured by concern over those scenes containing animal slaughter, but in context these seem natural to the life-style depicted. In consequence too little attention has been given to a work which, regardless of any minor reservations that can be made, is manifestly a work of art and a remarkable discovery.




Cast: Murakami Nijirô, Yoshinaga Jun, Matsuda Miyuki, Sugimoto Tetta, Watanabe Makiko, Murakami Jun, Tokita Fujio, Sakaki Hideo.


Dir Kawase Naomi, Pro Aoki Takehiko, Sawada Masa and Kawase, Screenplay Kawase Naomi, Ph Yamazaki Yutaka, Art Dir Inoue Kenji, Ed Tina Baz, Music Hasiken.

WowWow/Comme des Cinémas/Asmik Ace/ARTE France etc.-Soda Pictures.
119 mins. Japan/France. 2014. Rel: 3 July 2015. Cert. 15.