While many of us are still agonising over this year’s Cannes line up, and what films we desperately need to catch up with following their critical acclaim at the prestigious, annual event – there’s still a fair few titles from last year’s festival that demand our viewing, only now gaining distribution in Britain. Naomi Kawase’s enchanting drama Still the Water is one of them, having been shortlisted for the Palme d’Or. Now, over a year later – it’s time to find out what all the fuss is about.
Set on the subtropical Japanese island of Amami, the lives of two curious teenagers are shaken up after the discovery on a tattooed corpse floating in the sea. It’s initially found by 16-year-old Kaito (Nijiro Murakami), who needs the assistance of his assiduous girlfriend Kyoko (Jun Yoshinaga) to help comprehend the situation. The whole scenario is eye-opening for the pair, as it inadvertently triggers a range of emotions – perpetuated by the latter’s mother terminal illness – as they discover what it truly means to live, to lose and to love.
There’s a rhythm to this hypnotic piece, as you become immersed in this world, caught up in the lives of our two protagonists. Though there’s a certain serenity and enchantment to this indelible coming-of-age picture, death remains the most prevalent theme, which becomes evident from the opening scene whereby we see a goat hanging upside down with its throat cut – setting the precedence for a film that scrutinises over, and studies the notion of death. However there is something uplifting about this endeavour, and almost inspiring in the teenager’s blissful, naïve approach to this sense of finality, and the way the film copes with death, particularly through a handful of mesmerising songs they sing, allowing for us to understand the loss of life in a fresh, different way ourselves, to rationalise and come to terms with it in the same way they’re having to.
The ocean is a consistent backdrop throughout, as an omniscient presence of sorts, that serves in dictating and informing the mood and tone of the piece. At times it’s something of an intimating figure, while the deafening sound of the waves adds a sense of intensity to proceedings. However in others, the sea is a place of tranquility, a peaceful and beautiful thing that gives off the feeling of infinite hope.
In some regards, the water is emblematic of a film that is open to interpretation, and one that demands a second viewing. There are so many metaphors and layers to this intriguing production, that you feel you need to see it again to enrich the experience and help understand it all. Kawase has since described her very own film as a ‘masterpiece’ and while that’s a statement we most definitely disagree with, there is certainly a lot here to be taken away and admired.