Sometimes a storm can be a welcome thing. It can clear away the long build of pressure and expectation, and leave freshness in its wake. After the Storm certainly has that same effect: building slowly and moving through the typhoon of its title, it leaves the viewer with a rain-patter conclusion which is well worth the gentle pace.
Subtle and frank, Hirozaku Kore-eda brings together a sublime cast of characters to contemplate seismic shifts in a family’s dynamics. We follow Ryota as he tries to win back his old life in the wake of his estranged father’s death.
The real work of the film takes place in quiet conversations between mother, sister, co-workers, son, and ex-wife, and they show us that Ryota’s life is, frankly, a bit of a disappointment. From the high expectations following his best-selling novel, Ryota’s now a sleazy private detective. He blows his child support gambling on cycling races; he spies on his ex-wife (Kyoko) while she’s on dates; he rarely visits his mother (and when he does, he steals from her and takes a bite of the mooncake on the household shrine).
He’s constantly making promises (I’ll buy you a new glove, son; I’m writing my second book, Kyoko; I’ll buy you a condo, mom), but he never delivers. “I’m the great talent who blooms late,” Ryota tells his mother, Yoshiko. She snaps back, “well, you’re taking too long. Hurry up, or I’ll haunt you!”
The film is excellently cast. His mother, sister, ex-wife, and son are adept at pulling Hiroshi Abe’s Ryota back to reality when he gets a little too far from taking any responsibility, and they can still all commit to softly tender, deeply loaded scenes. ‘You bought him lottery tickets?’ Kyoko says to Ryota, angry and disbelieving; ‘they’re the ones where you always win something!’ he responds. It’s lightly done: he, Kyoko, and their son dash into the storm to find the tickets.
Special mention has to go to Kirin Kiki’s Yoshiko, who can drop truth bomb after truth bomb without seeming overblown or contrived – perhaps because the grandmother is so imminently practical. She’s the kind of grandma who has had soup in her freezer for eleven years. After all, “A stew needs time for flavours to sink in. So do people.”
I found particularly impressive he way Kore-eda used his cast to pick up strands of broader themes of family in Japan. He touches on ageing populations, familial hierarchies and duty, and changing notions of work, father and mother, without being so didactic as to offer overarching solutions. Instead he shows how these tensions are played out on the personal level.
After all, this is really a film about daily life, and it’s when Kore-eda focuses in on the mundane that the film is at its most visually stunning. Domestic scenes in the grandmother’s flat deserve a special mention – noodles falling into a pot, water coming to boil, two women chopping vegetables with a child between them. The city itself is beautifully shot; we move from claustrophobic streets to claustrophobic offices and apartments seamlessly.
Will Ryota stay a writer? Will he leave his sleazy job? Will he get his wife back? Such questions aren’t really the point, and any hope for a tidy, happy resolution are misplaced. The women in the film show that life is far more about living with your disappointments and moving on from them, whether it’s the disappointment of love, or the failings of your husband.
After The Storm is not one of NZIFF’s more peculiar offerings. It’s not bizarre, its plot isn’t eccentric, and it really isn’t trying to get you squirming with anticipation. But the film itself manages to be, entirely unostentatiously, one of the best I’ve seen recently.
You can catch After the Storm at the remaining Wellington screenings of the NZIFF – check out the schedule here.