Reviews and notes
2016 Cannes, Taipei, Wellington, Melbourne, Toronto, Helsinki, London, Chicago, Dubai
A young divorced dad tries to get back into the good graces of his ex-wife and son in After the Storm
, a classic Japanese family drama of gentle persuasion and staggering simplicity from Kore-eda Hirokazu. As sweet as a ripe cherry at first glance, it has a rocky pit, as viewers who bite deeply will find out. More casual audiences may not even perceive it. This bittersweet peek into the human comedy has a more subtle charm than flashier films like the director’s child-swapping fable Like Father, Like Son
, but the filmmaking is so exquisite and the acting so calibrated it sticks with you... The story is beautifully balanced between gentle comedy and the melancholy reality of how people really are. Leopards are not going to change their spots, and each of the characters is shown to have fixations they can’t shake off, even when it means their dreams will remain unfulfilled.
- Deborah Young, Hollywood Reporter, 19 May 2016.
When is a half-eaten box of cheese straws not just a half-eaten box of cheese straws? Answer: when it’s in a Hirokazu Kore-eda film. No director working today is better at finding poetry in the flotsam of everyday life – and in After the Storm
even the snacks are bright with meaning, from the hamburgers and home-made water ices to the bowls of noodles hastily guzzled at grey railway station canteens.
Most of the guzzling is done by Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), a once-promising novelist eking out a living at a detective agency in a tatty northern suburb of Tokyo. He originally took the job as as research for his still-unwritten second novel, but has since settled into the cheating spouses and lost pets beat with depressing ease. It’s undignified work, but the salary it brings in helps him cover two longstanding financial commitments. One is monthly maintenance payments to his ex-wife Kyoko (Yoko Maki) and their son Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa). The other is his ruinous gambling habit.
In the event of a clash – if he has a promising tip for the cycle track, say – the gambling invariably takes precedence over his boy’s upkeep. But Ryota bets obsessively for the same reason he always seems to be nibbling on biscuits and sweets. He’s staving off pangs of paternal uselessness as well as hunger – just tiding things over until real, substantial nourishment arrives.
At least he has his doting elderly mother Yoshiko, played by the great Japanese character actress Kirin Kiki, to help with the food side. She’s a natural caterer and nurturer, always clattering and stirring away at some curry or hotpot – though having recently lost her husband, Ryota’s father, her mind often turns to her own mortality, as well as how much she’d love to see her son, grandson and ex-daughter-in-law reconciled for good. (Her own social life is a less pressing concern: “New friends at my age only means more funerals,” she observes.)
With a typhoon bearing down on the city, all four are finally forced to spend a long, blustery night in Ryota’s mother’s cramped apartment, during which three generations of familial hopes and regrets are slid in turn under the microscope.
Before this, though, Kore-eda shows us Ryota going about his business as both detective and parent – and just as in the workplace he is a divorcee who gathers evidence for other people’s divorces, there is a sad circularity about the way in which his memories of his father as an unreliable provider are clearly being visited on his own son in turn.
It helps that Kore-eda’s cast is studded with his regular players, who give the kind of closely observed but seemingly effortless performances that capture the wryness, affection and subtle magic of this filmmaker’s inimitable worldview. The tall and rangy Abe, whose size seems to put him automatically at odds with the world around him, also starred as a teacher in I Wish
(2011) and a father at a family reunion in the director’s 2008 masterpiece Still Walking
: Kiki played his mother in that film as well, and this is the fifth she has made with the director overall.
The truth of every moment is grounded in its details, such as the way Ryota’s adult sister (Satomi Kobayashi) rocks automatically forward in her seat to avoid the swing of the refrigerator door in her mother’s cramped kitchenette, or the way his thrifty mother quietly folds up the ribbon from a cake box, presumably so it can be pressed into a drawer somewhere and reused at a later date. Even the tiniest gestures have years of family history buried within them.
Along similar lines, the unremarkable urban spaces of Ryota’s life often catch your breath with their uninsistent beauty: criss-crossed frames at a bicycle park, the rainbow glimmer of an arcade, the soft glow of a florist on a dark evening. This is filmmaking in the compassionate, lyrical tradition of Kore-eda’s countrymen Yasujiro Ozu and Mikio Naruse, in which even a grandmother’s cluttered apartment, piled high with junk and heirlooms, should be framed as attentively as the grand hall of a palace. No director working today observes family life with such delicacy and care, or is so unstintingly generous with what they find.
- Robbie Collin, The Telegraph, 2 June 2017.
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