NZIFF Review – ‘After the Storm’ (dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda)

It’s always hard for me to describe the plot of a Hirokazu Kore-eda film to someone because they simultaneously manage to be about ‘something’ and yet ‘nothing at all’ – that is, in the best way possible. I’ve been a fan of Kore-eda’s work since I watched Still Walking several years ago and last year I was able to see Our Little Sister at last year’s NZ International Film Festival. The work that he produces is simple but high-quality; generally gentle in nature, they’re often borderline-philosophical slice-of-life stories about ordinary, everyday individuals in Japan and the way they navigate their relationships with their families and loved ones whilst trying to grapple with things like tradition, loss/trauma, and personal identity.

(Semi-spoilers ahead)

Beautifully shot and delicately told, After the Storm follows in this fashion by telling the story of Ryota Shinoda (Hiroshi Abe), a former prize-winning novelist and part-time detective, as he tries to maintain his relationships with his elderly mother and his sister  as well as his adolescent son and ex-wife, while also trying to come to terms with his own sense of self following the recent passing of his father. While those around him seem to be moving on with their lives, Ryota struggles to bring himself into the present and let go of the nostalgia for both his former glory days as a successful writer and a happily married man.

The irony in Ryota’s occupations here are obvious – while his job as a private detective is all about personal integrity and tying up loose ends, he has trouble bringing the threads of his personal life to a proper close (seen also in his inability to finish writing his next book) or being very honest and open about the goings-ons of his present situation. Throughout the film, Ryota makes a series of attempts to reconnect and spend more time with his family, but the thing that may ultimately help bring both him and his loved ones some sense of closure is the typhoon headed their way.

I thoroughly enjoyed After the Storm and felt it definitely up to standard with Still Walking and Our Little Sister. As well as Kore-eda’s fantastic grasp on writing dialogue, especially with conversations between family members, one of the things that makes his films so lovely are the moments of quiet that he threads into his stories. This quiet is clear in the way he shoots his films (lovely soft colours, a lot of long takes, mostly on tripod), frames his shots (clean lines, neat frames-within-frames, corridor shots much like Yasujiro Ozu’s), and uses music (sparse in frequency, but always with a soundtrack as gentle as the rest of the film).

These moments illustrate everything from sadness to contentment to nostalgia and even humour – and there was plenty of humour to be found in the film, as apparent from the laugh-out-loud reactions from the audience in the Embassy this afteroon. Kore-eda isn’t ever ‘explicit’ with his comedy so to speak (in the way that a comedy film is), but nonetheless his execution of it is masterful. His humour can be found in moments of silence (eg. a prolonged shot of two people chipping away at frozen desserts with spoons) and in familial banter that anyone could imagine themselves having (and having Asian heritage myself I recognised a great many of the situations from a cultural context, and thus found it amusing in its familiarity).

I should probably amend my first statement – it’s hard for me to describe the plot of a Hirokazu Kore-eda film because no matter how I phrase things I can never quite do his stories justice. All I can say is that if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. While After the Storm is ultimately a simple story, the magic in Kore-eda’s films is that they’re both very relatable and yet have a way of making the ordinary and everyday seem beautiful. Those of you who have seen other Kore-eda films may find some of the cast to be familiar – Hiroshi Abe’s character in Still Walking was also named Ryota, and I had to take a moment to divorce my expectations of his character in After the Storm from my preconceptions of the former, haha. If I had only one complaint about the film, it’s that it seemed to stretch on a little long – ~120min is usual for a Kore-eda film, but in this case I feel as if some scenes could have been dropped entirely. This may be only my impression, however; in any case, I definitely encourage others to see it for themselves and tell me what they thought.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Other screenings of After the Storm at the Wellington NZIFF are:
• Fri 29 July, 11AM @ Embassy Theatre
• Mon 1 August, 6:15PM @ Penthouse Cinema
• Tues 2 August, 11:30AM @ Penthouse Cinema

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