DIR/WRI: Hirokazu Koreeda • PRO: Tsugihiko Fujiwara, Takashi Ishihara, Kazumi Kawashiro, Kaoru Matsuzaki, Hijiri Taguchi, Tatsumi Yoda, Akihiko Yose • DOP: Yutaka Yamazaki • ED: Hirokazu Koreeda • MUS: Hanaregumi • CAST: Hiroshi Abe, Yôko Maki, Satomi Kobayashi
Things haven’t exactly panned out for Ryota Shinoda (Hiroshi Abe), a forty-something has-been author and part-time private detective. Not only has his father just died, his his ex-wife, Kyoko (Yoko Maki), is after him for unpaid child support, and he barely ever gets a chance to see his son, Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa). Of course, Ryota is far from innocent in all of this: thanks to his compulsive gambling that has caused him to rack up considerable debts. Still, it’s easier to blame anyone but himself for his predicament: “Men are getting less manly,” Ryota bitterly laments to his colleagues.
In light of Japan’s graying population, director Hirokazu Koreeda’s After the Storm examines the implications of an extended adolescence on Japanese families. In many ways, Ryota has never grown up: in his attempts to care for his elderly mother, Yoshida (Kirin Kiki), it is clear that she is still the one doing most of the parenting; while his endeavours to reunite with his ex-wife and son are more like the juvenile actions of a child who can’t understand why his parents split up. The dynamics between the Shinoda family clearly haven’t changed in over four decades. Ryota and his sister Chinatsu (Satomi Kobayashi) still squabble for their mother’s attention, and Yoshida still shows off about her son’s achievements to neighbours, much to Ryota’s chagrin, who is reminded of his own inadequacies as an award-winning author whose success has long since evaporated.
Despite the familial conflicts, however, After the Storm remains optimistic, recognising that family life is at all times about compromise, requiring accommodation to new and changing conditions. Sitting down to this film feels like being welcomed into Yoshida’s apartment, the film’s focal point, due to the static, intimate cinematography which exacerbates the film’s architecture, drawing attention to the tight fit of Yoshida’s living quarters. However, this is not to say that the film ever feels claustrophobic. While Ryota may have regrets about the fact that neither he nor his father was never able to provide his mother with a more lavish dwelling, and indeed while Yoshida herself may have dreamed of a bigger home in which to house her whole family, the overriding sense from After the Storm is of a family that have weathered many storms and have always found a way.
The highlight of the film is unquestionably Kirin Kiki as Yoshida, whose perpetual good humor and caring nature means she has been the glue keeping her family together for decades. Every scene with Yoshida is an absolute gem, with Kiki’s performance bringing, as it does, immense warmth and charm to the film. It’s almost a pity that After the Storm is Ryota’s story rather than Yoshida’s, as she is, in many ways, the most intriguing character.
If After the Storm had a slight flaw it would be that the film lets Ryota off a little lightly considering he acts quite inappropriately towards his ex-wife. Meanwhile, her boyfriend is given an almost cartoon-villain quality to him, inevitably making Ryota look good in comparison. One can perhaps forgive this for being seen from Ryota’s point of view. Overall, After the Storm is a charming, engaging family drama which draws its audience in with its warm familiarity and gentle humour.
After the Storm is released 2nd June 2017