The Best Thanksgiving Film
Thanksgiving is the best holiday.
This may be a bit of a non-conformist pick, going against the traditionalist Christmas and the truly edgy Halloween, but its combination of food, football, and chill sentimentality makes for the perfect day.
Christmas may bring about the most overall joy, but with that joy, in addition to the full month of holiday spirit jammed down your throat, comes the pressure of it being the best day of the year and with great expectations often comes great failure.
Thanksgiving doesn’t have any of those expectations placed upon it. Other than travel plans and cooking plans it doesn’t require any preparations at all. It’s the kind of day even the curmudgeonly purveyor of all humbugs Ebenezer Scrooge himself could probably get behind–and if not there’s a football game to go watch before the food is ready.
With Thanksgiving being the holiday that hides in the corner like an introvert while all other holidays loudly express their misconstrued thoughts it doesn’t really have a great piece of pop culture to accompany it. Again, we are drowning in Christmas and Halloween themed movies, Valentine’s Day has the entire concept of love to accompany it, and most other holidays don’t really matter, but that true representative Thanksgiving film doesn’t exist. So, I’ve come up with a pick for you.
To continue the route of non-traditionalism (surprise, surprise) the pick I have for best Thanksgiving film is one that doesn’t take place at Thanksgiving and in fact takes place in Japan, a country that doesn’t celebrate the holiday at all.
My pick is Hirokazu Kore-eda’s 2008 film Still Walking. Now if you’ve read this far, congratulations, you’re ahead of most and that still leaves you a 1% chance of watching this film. The barriers to entry are already difficult, a Japanese family drama from 8 years ago is hard for most people to get down with, I get that (it has 100% on RottenTomatoes! Does that help?), to make it worse for you, you’ve got to pay $3 on GooglePlay to be able to watch it in SD, so goodbye to everyone else who was thinking about it. Nonetheless, I will still try to convince you to watch it.
The film centers on a family gathering together for their yearly meeting (see, just like Thanksgiving!). As they prepare to gather, we hear different perspectives from different members of the family, the mom and sister discuss the brother’s new wife, the brother wonders if they can avoid spending the night, and the father ruminates on his purpose as an aging man. All of these little things, expressed and unexpressed, are the focus of the film, as any family gathering it becomes a meditation on history and expectation.
It portrays with grace the times when family gatherings turn into rehashes of all the disappointments each person has faced and the way that these disappointments in the people we love the most can harbor unexpressed bitterness. You often place the highest expectations on the people you love the most, but without grace it’s impossible to maintain a relationship that doesn’t lean toward underlying negativity. Still Walking captures this with subtlety and beauty.
There are other Thanksgiving-like moments as well, featuring many food-centric shots of the family cooking together or finally being forced to come together as they gather around the table (only with sushi rather than turkey). The dual need and pleasure of food forces unity in ways that are achingly beautiful and the film parallels Thanksgiving in this way.
Kore-eda is exploring other things too, particularly death, which has an overarching presence–the family is gathering to remember the son who died over a decade before–and it wonders about the legacy one leaves behind, both for oneself and for one’s family. It ultimately reflects the regrets one might have of decisions made, things said, and the unwillingness to move past pride and into that core loving relationship that one’s family is supposed to represent.
Every moment, even the arguments and dark sentiments that get expressed, is filled with a tender grace; it’s as if Kore-eda knows it’s impossible to get along all the time, but that there is a beauty in gathering together and that alone is worthy of being thankful for.