Is there a gentle kind of catharsis? Not a purgation of fear and pity through tragedy, but rather a dissipation of our worry and sorrow through the effects of a tender drama told well? If there is, Kore-eda Hirokazu’s After the Storm accomplishes it.
Ryota (Abe Hiroshi) was once a promising novelist, but his gambling addiction has reduced him to the movie status of “deadbeat dad.” He now tries to scrounge up enough money to cover his child support by moonlighting as a low-level private detective, which he claims is merely research for his next novel. He sees his adolescent son Shingo (Yoshizawa Taiyô) once a month, and he worries that his ex-wife, Kyoko (Maki Yôko), has found a new man, defeating his dream of “someday” getting back together with her. While we see the different problems in Ryota’s life, the film’s narrative centralizes around visits to his elderly and recently widowed mother (Kiki Kirin) in the housing community outside Tokyo where he grew up. His father has died, and it seems he exhibited the same poor habits as Ryota.
The tone of After the Storm is at turns sweet and sad, gently humorous and painful. The characters and events might initially seem conventional, but Kore-eda’s attention to detail makes them feel real. Likewise, After the Storm may be a family dramedy, but it’s not interested in neatly resolving the issues between the family members. At the same time, the film is concerned with change—but more changes in feeling than behaviour. As well, the film works an emotional effect upon its audience.
Two examples suggest the tone, effect, and themes of After the Storm. Early on in the film, the dryly charming grandmother explains to her daughter as she’s cooking that some foods need to stew for a while to bring out their flavour, as do people. The grandmother offers these sort of statements of wisdom at various points in the film (the proverbs of elders even produce a few good jokes throughout the movie). After the Storm itself simmers its characters to resolve (or at least to dissolve some of) their conflicts. I myself felt mellowed and enriched over the course of this tender dramedy: events were never pushed to boiling point and I was never scalded with melodrama.
Then there is the title: After the Storm. With the title, we might expect a clash of conflict at some point, but instead the film downplays the inevitable climax. The real breakdown between Ryota and Kyoko has already happened: Ryota just needs to resolve himself to this. However, the four central characters are brought together later in the film in the home of the grandmother as a typhoon hits Japan. As the typhoon approaches, the grandmother says that she likes thunderstorms, that she finds them in a strange way refreshing, but she also confesses her earlier fear of storms when she lived in a small house (and not in the housing complex that provides the film’s central setting). The film is not falsely mild. It is aware of the pains Ryota and his father have caused, but it is not about creating a spectacular crisis in order to work everything out. Rather, the storms, both emotional and actual, play out as natural and perhaps cyclical events that have the power to cleanse and refresh, but not to make everything the way it used to be.
The most poignant aspect of After the Storm is how it addresses, through the character of Ryota, the nature of unfulfilled dreams in life, specifically when we return to locations from the past or reevaluate our past behaviour. At various points, the film asks, “What did you want to be when you grew up? Have you become who you want to be?” With the screenplay’s attention to the subtleties of human nature and lived experience, After the Storm is so accessible that I couldn’t help but apply its questions to myself.
Unlike Anders and Aren, I’m a newcomer to the subtle emotions and affecting storytelling of the Japanese master of family drama, Kore-eda. I thoroughly enjoyed After the Storm. It’s slow enough for a viewer to become reflective while watching it, yet engaging and enjoyable throughout. Kore-eda’s filmmaking is so assured that it kept me absorbed in the human relations unfolding and reforming.
8 out of 10
After the Storm (2016, Japan)
Written and directed by Kore-eda Hirokazu; starring Abe Hiroshi, Maki Yôko, Yoshizawa Taiyô, and Kiki Kirin.