Film Review: AFTER THE STORM (Japan 2016) ***1/2

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AFTER THE STORM.jpgDirector: Hirokazu Koreeda
Writers: Hirokazu Koreeda (original story), Hirokazu Koreeda (screenplay)
Stars: Hiroshi Abe, Yôko Maki, Satomi Kobayashi

Review by Gilbert Seah

 I was totally amazed with the first Hirokazu Kore-eda film I had seen called AFTER LIFE in 2003, which I considered a minor masterpiece. The British magazine did a 5-page article on him and the film hoping the publicity would get the then undistributed film distribution. It did. Kore-eda followed AFTER LIFE with a few other films, most notable being the Cannes Palme d’Or winner in 2013 LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON – again an excellent film.

AFTER THE STORM is not Kore-da at his best but at his mildest filmmaking. Don’t expect the drama of LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON or the imagination of AFTER LIFE. Yet AFTER THE STORM is not without its pleasures. On the surface it is a simple film, a kind look at a loser. Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) is a failed writer, a third-rate detective, and a hardened gambler. As the film’s title seems to suggest, the salient moments of his life have already passed before the beginning of the story. He won an important literary award when he was young, but his promising career vanished into thin air. Now, his father has died and his wife has left him. What he makes as a private detective, he loses on gambling and can barely pay his child support. After the death of his father, his aging mother Yoshiko (Kilin Kiki) and his ex-wife Kyoko (Yoko Maki) seem to be moving on with their lives. Renewing contact with his initially distrusting family, Ryota struggles to take back control of his existence and to find a place in the life of his young son, Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa). Ryoto seems resigned to his position on the sidelines of the boy’s life. But Ryota works with another young man, his private-eye assistant, who fills in the position of his absent son.

The audience is left to judge Ryoto. Ryoto is a man, not without vices, but still honest man despite dishonest doings. And he is still a handsome man, besides his age, able to attract the opposite sex, as in the old classmate he meets at the beginning of the film.

Thefilm’s climax takes place one night when a typhoon strikes. The broken family is forced to spend the night together at Ryota’s mother’s home. The ensuing interaction that is both bittersweet and tender forms the film’s highlight. “I never want to grow up to be like you.”, the son says. “I will always love them. They are my family.” The father says at one point. These are the sensitivities always prevalent in Kore-eda’s films that make them memorable. Great performances here come not only from Abe but from Kirin Kiki as Ryota’s mother, who is so funny she steals every scene she is in. And as in all Kore-eda’s films, there are a lot of scenes of trains. Kore-eda has said that this film is based on his personal experience of the death of his parents.

Also interesting is the observation of the ex-couple’s arguments. Ryota argues with his ex-wife over seeing his son and child support. In this film, typical of Japanese films, there is argument with reasoning without any shouting or display of cheap theatrics that are common to European and American films.

There is a beautiful shot of a delicious braised pork brewing stew at one point in the film when Yoshiko tells her son: “A stew needs time for the flavours to sink in; so do people.” The same applies in AFTER THE STORM – patience is needed for the audience to savour the pleasures of Kore-eda’s film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwJcIoFuhto

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