Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s After The Storm is an elegant film with a graceless protagonist. It might be impossible to engage with this story if told by another filmmaker. Luckily, Kore-Eda (Our Little Sister, I Wish) is here to deliver moments of humor, nuance, and insight. The result is a truly special film. Ryôta (Hiroshi Abe), author of a prize-winning first novel, is in an extended rough patch. Now he works for a Tokyo detective agency, supposedly as research for the second novel he has never gotten around to starting. He squanders money on gambling, which leaves him unable to pay child support.
After his father dies, Ryôto feels even more adrift. His mother Yoshiko (Kiki Kilin), and ex-wife Kyoko (Yôko Maki), both seem to be making new lives. Ryôto worries about how this will affect his relationship with his son, Shingo (Yoshizawa Taiyô). A typhoon forces everyone to take shelter in Yoshiko’s cramped apartment. Being in such close quarters provides an opportunity to revisit old issues.
Kore-Eda is often called a successor to Ozu, and this film makes it easy to see why. The scenes in Yoshiko’s apartment, especially, illustrate so many aspects of domestic living. While the presentation may lack Ozu’s low focus, it shares his loving attention to detail. Yoshiko shows Ryôto a tangerine tree on her balcony-turns out it is one he grew from seed as a student. Although still alive, the tree has never flowered or borne fruit. She says, “I water it every day like it’s you.” (In a nifty bit of irony, the tangerine is a Japanese symbol of the wish for a long and prosperous bloodline.)
It is obvious Yoshiko loves her son and is very proud of him, though without fully understanding him. At one point she makes what she considers to be a wise observation. Immediately, she badgers Ryôto to take down her words, on the grounds that he could use them for his writing. Other family members are less accepting. Ryôto’s sister gets the name of his literary prize wrong on purpose. His late father hated novels and gave him very little encouragement toward his writing career.
The facets of the story relating to Ryôto as a writer provide context that turns After The Storm into something more than a domestic drama. They help the viewer make sense of Ryôto’s hesitance to take lucrative writing jobs of lesser prestige. If the narrative does not fully explain his restlessness, at least it makes this quality easier to tolerate.
After The Storm is a beautifully crafted film about reflection and second chances-from a writer’s point of view.
Theme: A Writer’s Life
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