If there’s one word that describes the films of Hirokazu Kore-eda, it would be “generous.” Ever since bursting onto the art house scene with After Life (1998), he’s amassed a career of about a dozen films whose central themes are universal ones of family, separation, community and melancholy relationships.
His films acutely represent the passing of time and the patient interactions he concocts between characters are touching beyond description. They’re all so rich and three-dimensional, we can graft our own memories of loved ones onto them as if we’re watching our own home movies replayed before our eyes.
His latest home movie is After the Storm and, yes, it’s generous and warm and funny and deeply moving. It features subplots of private investigators, rampant gambling and a massive typhoon that threatens landfall …. all things that in another movie would veer off into clichéd territory. But in Kore-eda’s film, those plot devices are reductive and not only add profound feeling to the eventual second half of the story, but give After the Storm a somewhat shaggy dog appeal in how Kore-eda weaves towards a denouement.
And shaggy-dog could precisely describe Ryota (Hiroshi Abe). A novelist of some acclaim fifteen years ago, his life has drifted far from those streaks of ‘genius,’ as his mother (Kirin Kik) once noted about him. Divorced and mostly estranged from his wife Kyoko (Yoko Maki) and young son (Taiyo Yoshizawa), except on sparse weekend visits, Ryota bides his time moonlighting as a private investigator. Telling himself it’s only a job to conduct research for an upcoming book, he and his baby-faced partner (Sosoku Ikematsu) seems to take perverse interest in selling their compromising evidence back to the people they’re spying on.
Taking his privileged access on spying a step further, Ryota spends his off-days following his ex-wife to determine if she’s seeing anyone else. Even more unscrupulous, he doesn’t win any points as a family man either, continually visiting his elderly mother to search for his recently deceased father’s prized possessions to pawn for money.
If all of this sounds like a morally bankrupt examination of a sleazy guy, it’s not. Kore-eda manages to keep things fairly sweet and gentle even when Ryota does some awful things. It’s a tone that could have self-destructed easily at any moment, yet After the Storm maintains a steady atmosphere, especially in the second half when Ryota, his son, ex-wife and mother are forced to spend a night together waiting out the titular storm. It’s in this portion of the film that Kore-eda’s deft eye and ear for narrative take over.
Also written and edited by Kore-eda, After the Storm is quite miraculous in the effortless way it presents a slice of life tale. Drifting off rather than ending, it’s a film that understands the nuances of life. In the humorous way Ryota finds a note from his sister that reads “too late!” when he finds a possibly valuable trinket hidden away by his dad, the frailty of life is tactile in the way his mother asks him if it’d be better for her to die quickly in her sleep or be bedridden for years. Ryota eventually gives her an answer, but it’s a conversation between mother and son rarely heard on-screen. It’s yet another example of the way Kore-eda manages to balance the sublime and sad in one brief moment.
The film is now playing at the Angelika Film Center in Plano.