Every now and then I feel signs of my maturity, not just as an adult, but as a film critic and cinema lover. My tastes have broadened, deepened and I have less time to suffer through really bad films of any genre but I look back in my years of going to movies and see that I enjoyed, at one time, a film like 300, one that has gotten progressively worse in my mind anytime I see it. The prime example of how my outlook has changed can be pointed to a Japanese filmmaker named Hirokazu Koreeda. Last year, in limited release, Vancouver got his latest film, Our Little Sister. A quiet little film about grief and family, three sisters take in their unknown half-sister in the wake of the death of their father, who had abandoned his older daughters for a new life. Their mother has also recently died, and they are building and bridging a new family together. I fell deeply for this movie and was captivated by every real moment – but could Koreeda do it again with his new film, After The Storm?
Again dealing with themes of parental death, the film follows Ryôta, a private investigator who lives a life barely being held together. Divorced and a bit estranged from his young son, the passing of Ryôta’s father pushes him into an emotional spiral. Through the investigation of his father’s last few weeks, he begins to realize how alike they are, something he has denied for years. Adding to his personal tragedy is the discovery that his ex-wife is now moving on and the new potential happy family means that Ryôta must finally make his peace and move on. All of this culminates as a literal tsunami is coming to rock the city they live in, forcing Ryôta, his mother, his ex-wife and his son into close quarters for the duration of the storm, while Ryôta tries to form some sort of reconciliation.
Koreeda masters his very real human emotional drama, drawing you in with the subtle complexities of his characters. Ryôta feels like an incredibly stunted man in his inability to claim any sort of responsibility in his life – such as the large outstanding child care debts owed to his son. Somehow, he still tries to take on debts and responsibilities for his mother – not to be helpful but to earn an undeserved respect which she will never give him. This could all lead back to the father, a character we never see, who appears to have always kept each member of the family on edge and now Ryôta is seen carrying on that tradition. Can he break it, or will he lose his last chance?
I’ve said it many times. Foreign dramas seem to have a better ability to show relateable and reality rich stories that we can identify with in some shape or form but Hirokazu Koreeda is able to go beyond this with his storytelling. There is nothing overacted or overtly dramatic about any of the story arc you are seeing on screen but there are indelible and significant changes in our characters that happen in a very real way. With all of this close to the heart story in a modern world, Koreeda also has an old cinema soul in his shot framing and execution that fully displays his mastery as a fully rounded storyteller. The most unfortunate thing about After The Storm is that a large majority of North American moviegoers will never know it existed or the rest of Koreeda’s body of work. 5/5