Still the Water (2014) by Naomi Kawase

An atypical film, filled with extraordinary images of a world that is perishing

by Krzysztof Pietrzak

"Still the Water" is one of the most acclaimed films by Naomi Kawase, having won a plethora of awards in a number of festivals around the world, both for Kawase and her her cinematographer, Jun Yoshinaga. It is a
Japanese-French-Spanish co-production and premiered in Cannes, where it was nominated for the Palme d'Or, without winning, though.


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The script tells the love story of two 16-year-old peers. Kyoko is very confident and smart. She lives in harmony with nature, she likes the sea where she often dives, feeling the joy of being in touch with nature.

She falls in love with her classmate Kaito who is sensitive, shy and does not like the sea. The boy's uncertainty intensifies, when he finds the body of a man who was thrown over to the sea and recognizes friend of his mother's. The girl loves Kaito and wants to be loved. She sees the boy's dilemma and tries to be understanding. They often meet together on the beach, from where they come back together on a bicycle. These cycling trips along the sea coast, under the sun, are some of the most beautiful images in this film.

Kyoko's family is disturbed by the serious illness of her mother, who has little time left. They live in harmony, and her mother's time is spent resting on the veranda, in the shadow of a giant tree, where she hosts her friends, who sing and play folk songs. She is also a shaman in a village, and often repeats the words "who has children does not die completely”. On the on the other hand, Kaito parents are divorced. The boy is trying to understand the reasons for the separation. He even goes to his father in Tokyo to talk to him about it, because his mother cannot cope with loneliness. Kaito is a good observer and knows what is most important to him in life - he loves his mother and Kyoko.

The boy Kaito is a calm, shy person who is trying to understand the surrounding world and he is  particularly interested in the causes that led to the divorce of his parents. The boy becomes more and more confident under the love of Kyoto. He loves her and he knows that she also loves him. Kyoto believes in herself, in her capacity and is full of ideas. She loves Kaito and is sure he will reciprocate her love. Her father and sick mother live in harmony, giving themselves great affection and respect.

Kyoto’s mother is named Isa, and is a beautiful, sensual woman. She is a shaman in the village, a person suspended between the gods and the people, according to the villagers. Her friends visit her trying to help, by improving the mood in time of severe fatal illness. Kyoto's father, Toru likes the sea and loves surfing. He loves his wife and tries to look after her as much as possible. The three of them make  a loving family. Kaito's mother, Misaki cannot deal with loneliness after the divorce with her husband. She works in a restaurant and tries to fix her  private life anew. She often meets with lovers. Despite personal problems, Misaki is a good mother to Kaito - she does not neglect him, she is a caring mother.


Kaito’s father, Atsushi, lives and works as a tattoo artist in Tokyo, after the divorce. It is evident that he enjoys living in the city with its numerous charms - restaurants and pubs. Kamejiro is the local sage. He is a treasury of knowledge and shares it with the youths. He leads a very quiet life according to nature - fishing and growing goats

The tempo of the movie is slow in order to contemplate nature. Naomi Kawase cinema is located outside of contemporary Japan - her film is a love story, but the first thing a viewer will notice in her film is Hasiken Hasiken's music, that intensifies the sense of mystery, and the spiritual dances and drum sounds. Kawase charms with extraordinarily unusual calm, quietness and narration. Her purpose is to calm our senses, to make them clear as water (as in the title), just like in Zen religion, where  you get peace through meditation.

Kawase shows the world not only through the eyes of teenagers, but also through their parents', as well as the old man who shares his experience in conversations with young people. The people in the movie live in harmony with nature, they fish, grow goats, and relax by singing and dancing. This is a world that is slowly transforming - this world is fascinating, where myths, symbols and rituals play a big role. However, Kawase also makes a point that this world is disappearing, through globalization, as it has already become a world very rarely witnessed. Although Naomi Kawase "gives hope for a better tomorrow," she is holding her head in the extrasensory world, interested in the spiritual, seemingly elusive source of the essence of human existence.


The film is very moody. You can see the strength and beauty of nature, through the forests at the seashore, the turbulence and the buzz of the sea. Often, we can hear the sounds of nature - primarily the waves crashing against the ocean shore, the rustling of the leaves on the trees, in which the wind blows. Yutaka Yamazaki presents wonderful images of the natural setting in Amami Oshima, southern Japan, where the scenery creates an extraordinary, spiritual atmosphere, almost mystical, with coastal landscapes, blue water and green trees. His cinematography is one of the film's strongest points.

Nijiro Murakami plays Kaito, and is quite good in portraying the boy's confusion in the film's setting. Jun Yoshinaga plays Kyoto with professionalism, as a girl whose initiative makes the two of them understand each other better and become closer, and Kaito more confident, curious about the world. Tetta Sugimoto as Toru is great as a man who, despite his wife's horrible fate, is able to create a loving atmosphere between the members of the family, while he also highlights the fact that he feels utterly responsible for them. In that fashion, he manages to draw affection from the audience for his peace of mind, even in the difficult situation he faces. Miyuki Mitsuda plays Isa, a seriously ill person, who is getting weaker day by day. Despite such a devastating disease, Isa is a nice person, open to other people, sociable and has  a peaceful aura around herself.

Makiko Watanabe as Misaki is great in the role of a woman who cannot bear loneliness, often changing life partners. However, she cares deeply for Kaito and tries to make his life a normal one, as he grows up. Jun Murakami plays Atsushi, a man who seems to fit perfectly in the setting of Tokyo, frequently visiting night clubs and enjoying, in general, the big city life. Fuji Tokita plays Kamejiro, a man who leads a quiet life, primarily engaged in catching fish, who sometimes meets with Kaito and Kyoto and shares his life experiences with them.

"Still the Water" as most of Kawase's films, is not typical, and one has to give up his stereotypes in order to witness the film's reality through her eyes. However, if one can manage that, he will witness the beuaty of Kawase's cinema


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Asian Film Vault: Still the Water (2014) by Naomi Kawase
Still the Water (2014) by Naomi Kawase
An atypical film, filled with extraordinary images of a world that is perishing
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