After The Storm (Cert PG)
1 Disc (Distributor: Arrow Academy) Running Time: 117 minutes approx.
“I wonder why it is that men can’t love the present. Either they just keep chasing whatever it is they’ve lost… or they keep dreaming beyond their reach.”
Following the brief diversion from his favoured theme of father and son relationships to bring us the female-centric Our Little Sister, Hirokazu Kore-eda resumes his exploration of this particular dynamic with his most personal work to date.
The title After The Storm is actually used in its literal sense on this occasion despite its more usual metaphoric application but Kore-eda has never really been one for ambiguity with his titles. At the centre of this story is Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), divorcee and one-hit wonder novelist now working as a private detective, prone to wasting his money on gambling instead of towards his alimony for his son Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa).
Ryota’s ex-wife and Shingo’s mother Kyoko (Yoko Maki) threatens to end Ryota’s access to Shingo until he pays up, while Ryota is cut up that Kyoko has a new man in her life. Meanwhile, Ryota’s recently windowed mother Yoshiko (Kirin Kiki) has also moved on with her life, but is afraid of dying alone, so she takes advantage of her family being trapped in her flat during a typhoon to get Ryota and Kyoko talking again.
As Japan’s most prominent chronicler of his country’s modern life, Kore-eda has been declared the heir apparent to the legendary Yasujiro Ozu – although he has professed a preference for Mikio Naruse instead. After The Storm sees Kore-eda actually riffing on his own work this time, by recycling the character name of Ryota from his 2008 film Still Walking, which also starred Abe and Kiki as son and mother.
In this instance, the Ryota in question is not a particularly noble chap, making it difficult for the audience to see what Kyoko saw in him, but as the film progresses we see that she is typical of Japan’s cultural mores regarding women in marriage. During a heart-to-heart chat with Yoshiko, Kyoko admits she got pregnant in the hope Ryota would grow up and behave responsibly which he didn’t. “Just like his father then” Yoshiko dryly replies.
This really is the central conceit of the story – men not taking responsibility in life and influencing their sons in the same way because it is all they know. It is Shingo who bears the brunt of this from both Ryota and Kyoko, with added help from Kyoko’s partner, being forced to play baseball when his heart isn’t it to it. Ryota in a way offers relief from this but his wayward habits equally play havoc with Shingo’s sense of direction.
Perhaps rather telling is how Shingo choose his grandmother as his personal hero for a school project, not his father or mother. Acting like the family’s version of Yoda, Yoshiko reels off pearls of wisdom and homespun philosophy like it’s going out of fashion and makes plenty of sense in the process – the quote at the top of this review is one of hers.
Also like Yoda, Yoshiko is mischievous and a master at manipulating her family to stick around and keep her company, the inconvenience of the typhoon playing perfectly into her plan. Yoshiko also has a daughter Chinatsu (Satomi Kobayashi), a married mother to two daughters, who thinks Ryota is out to take advantage of Yoshiko when she is just as bad, only Ryota is less subtle in his neediness.
Ryota’s emotional stasis might be attributed to the lack of approval and support from his father when his prize-winning novel The Empty Table was published. Yoshiko alludes to her late husband not having any real skill beyond having nice handwriting, from which we are led to surmise that seeing his son surpass him by achieving something must have dented his ego.
With Ryota then dining out on this singular success and refusing to accept commercial work like writing for a manga to earn a crust perhaps serves to justify his father’s apparent lack of faith in. The result is the half-arsed job Ryota does with Shingo, promising him the world and taking shortcuts to deliver it; on their designated day out together, Ryota treats Shingo to – what else? – lottery tickets!
However despite how it might read, the characters aren’t nasty or deliberately malicious, just your run-of-the-mill flawed human beings. Ryota may earn his money via unsavoury ways – gambling, borrowing from co-workers, or working dodgy private cases – but he is at least canny enough to pull it off. Kyoko might be the bitter ex-wife but we see someone with high expectations of other, be it Ryota or Shingo.
That old staple problem of communication, or lack thereof, is revealed as the root for the dissolution of and disillusion within this family unit, and by finally talking to each other and asking the right questions, the light of a new day finally breaks through the curtains of distrust, disappointment and denial. A brighter future beckons and the spectre of the past is finally laid to rest.
Kore-eda’s writing is as astute and quietly evocative as ever, and even with the feeling that he might be repeating himself, this sensation doesn’t last for long. Similarly, by using many actors from his previous films, this feels like an ensemble cast but the quality of their performances simply reaffirms Kore-eda’s decision as the right one, with veteran Kirin Kiki being the show stealer as the wise old matriarch Yoshiko.
I must confess that After The Storm hasn’t hit me quite as immediately as some of Kore-eda’s other films have, taking a very long time to get to the pivotal plot pint with the typhoon (over 75 minutes in). But as always, once the credit rolls I know I have been privy to a wondrous journey dissecting the worst human foibles and laying them bare for in depth analysis, only to come away with a warm glow of satisfaction.
Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD
Family Ties Part III
The Making Of After The Storm
The Making Of Theme Song Video
Reversible Sleeve Artwork
Rating – ****
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