Full disclosure: My favorite film is Kore-eda’s first fictional feature Maboroshi no Hikari and I am generally an enthusiast of his films. (But I do not like Like Father Like Son)
It opens with a scene of a family home. Quiet, Peaceful, Serene. It sets the tone for what is to come. Throughout the film there is a significant lack of the melodramatic flair of the modern dramatic cinema – with characters yelling and screaming at one another with tear filled eyes, seeking for a definitive answer and solution to the many problems of reality and living. Instead, this film, which is directed, written and edited by one of the most prominent contemporary Japanese film auteurs Kore-eda Hirokazu wishes for us to contemplate about our lives.
‘After the Storm’ stars Hiroshi Abe as Ryota, an author turned private detective down on his luck. He gambles his money away and is barely able to pay his bills and his child support fees. His ex-wife, played by Yoko Make is moving on with her life where as Ryota continues to struggles to find stability in his life and reunite with his family.
All this occurs while the presence of an oncoming storm is known and soon to be approaching.
Now while the film summary above may seem rather ‘dark’ in content at face value, I can assure that the film’s execution is on the other hand more on the light-heated side of things. An example: the subject of gambling away money is not dramatised as a serious and undying addiction but rather something more mundane and simple, more like a habit.
While Ryota’s gambling issues are definitely issues, they are observed and noted but never really sympathized with. This further adds to the tranquil mood and atmosphere that Kore-eda creates within the film. And such a peaceful and calm mood is reminiscent of the works of Yasujiro Ozu, as seen when Kore-eda fixates the camera onto the many , mundane details of the daily household, it forces us to observe the often overlooked aspects of everyday living and this also perhaps helps to put us in a ‘trance-like’ state of being, like a curious stranger observing a household. Through this almost omniscient view of the character’s lives and family, we are given much to contemplate on. (Kore-eda claims his style is much more similar to Mikio Naruse than Ozu, but I’ve not seen any of Naruse’s work so I am unable to confirm this. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2016/05/18/films/koreeda-discusses-storm/#.WADsSOB96Uk).
Much has to be said about Ryota’s mother, Yoshiko. Played by Kirin Kiki, Yoshiko is easily one of the most humorous, entertaining and endearing characters within the film. She is not without faults as a person, she is at times, a cheapskate and at times, transparently, childishly overbearing. There is something naturalistic about her performance, how she moves within the confines of the apartment, how she prepares a family dinner. Yoshiko easily feels like a real mother and a real grandmother and much of the film’s humor and humanity comes from her.
After the Storm gathers these characters once more during the oncoming storm, forcing them to confront with the reality of moving on. Ryota’s mother, Yoshiko, spends her time going to classical music classes and preparing little treats for when her family visits. It is clear from dialogue early on in the film the Ryota rarely pays visits to his mother anymore. Whereas Royta’s ex wife, has already moved on and found herself a well-off and more responsible boyfriend. And Ryota, in attempts to earn money to spoil his son during the monthly meetings with him, resorts to more dishonest methods like blackmailing and underhand deals in his private detective work.
Much happens in the film. Each of the characters are already beginning to live their own lives, in fact it would seem like amongst the three major characters mentioned above, the only one connecting their stories all together is Ryota who is obviously trying to win back the affection of her wife and son.
But in truth, they have already started on the path of drifting away from one another and if Ryota wasn’t intersecting their lives together, the characters would likely be on separate paths.
There is still much to be said about ‘After the Storm’ that I’ve yet to touch on. But this is without a doubt Kore-eda’s return to form after a series of rather minor or relatively disappointing films since his masterpiece, ‘Still Walking’. (Though most of the films at that period are still good.)
This Kore-eda film is a masterwork of Japanese cinema and easily one of the best films released in 2016. And perhaps with a viewing or two, one would feel the need to contemplate about human nature, relationships and our lives on this earth, in this society.