Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Rating: Not rated
An elderly wife and husband host their children and grandchildren for the day; the reason behind the family gathering isn't obvious at first, and at least one of the children, Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), wishes he didn't have to come at all, to be reminded that his parents consider him a big disappointment because of his career choice and because he married a widowed mother, Yukari (Yui Natsukawa).
But the movie isn't a stormy drama. The members of the Yokoyama family are polite, for the most part; they try not to be confrontational. They mill around the house, cooking together, talking about this and that, teasing each other into laughter and wounding each other with oblique remarks. There are beautiful close-ups of food simmering in pans, of the hands of young children reaching for pink blossoms in sunlit air. But the movie is never self-conscious about its beauty, just as it isn't self-conscious about the quiet moments of pettiness and cruelty that maintain the tension in the film, even if there's nothing earth-shaking going on on the surface.
The director likes to arrive at things sidelong. One of my favorite techniques that he uses is to have a character stand alone listening to other characters talk in a different room. There's a strange feeling of both connection and isolation, of listening in on people who are closer to you than anyone else but in some ways are still strangers.
An eerie moment in the film is when you hear the talk and laughter of the family posing for a photo off-screen, while on screen the camera lingers on a room where the photo of a deceased family member, Junpei, is displayed. Junpei has been dead for a dozen years, but now it feels like he's alive and listening. Memories of the dead are evoked to hold people together or to drive a wedge between them.
*All images link back to their sources (Flixster Community, Reeltimes, and Feminema).