After the Storm  is Japanese auteur Hirokazu Koreeda’s most recent project. Working with previous collaborators, Koreeda tells the tale of a middle-aged man Ryota (Hiroshi Abe): a once successful writer that currently passes his days as a private eye. Claiming to work as a private eye to research his next novel—a perpetual work-in-progress project that seems to be stagnating more than progressing—Ryota struggles to carve out a path for himself as he tries to live up to his responsibilities as a father and a son.
Audience Through the Looking Glass… After the Storm is neither complicated in premise nor melodramatic; in fact, if there’s any word to describe this film, it would be modest. And yet, modest is not to say lesser; what this film has in common with much of Koreeda’s body of work is a deep sense of pathos that seems to seep into the nooks and crannies of each of these character’s lives. Standing at over 6 feet tall, able-bodied and handsome, Koreeda’s lead character Ryota seems to only be thriving physically while he experiences stunted growth in every other aspect of his life. There’s stagnation in his career; his marriage is a failure; he can’t seem to provide for his son; he has a gambling problem; and, he is unable to care or provide for his aging mother. And he is by no means a black sheep. Though no major specifics were mentioned, through casual remarks in conversation, it seems that Ryota’s late father also struggled with this failure to thrive. And it’s through Ryota and his family that viewers can watch Koreeda explore a number of related themes that might leave one walking away with a few life lessons. Having said that, this, of course, is not a “message movie”; there are no heavy-handed overarching espousals of ideology. However, in spending time with this imperfect family, After the Storm allows us to look into their dynamics and thus subsequently interrogate our own notions of family and love. When we’re in the thick of it—whatever “it” is and in this case, “it” is a web of strained relationships—errors and/or solutions aren’t always clear and immediate. Yet, this myopia is not quite so pervasive for objective third parties and After the Storm gives its audience a chance to be this objective third party. What is taken away from this film then may very well vary across viewers.
Synergy: It’s Not Just a Buzz Word… After the Storm exemplifies how writing, performances, and music can complement each other to create a specific tone and feel of a film. These elements of Koreeda’s film come together like puzzle pieces to form a larger cohesive picture and it’s a testament to Koreeda’s eye and sensibilities that these elements fit together so well. Because Koreeda’s films are (generally) neither high concept nor melodramatic, the draw lies in the tenderly crafted interactions and familial relationships presented on the screen; and in this, Kirin Kiki who plays Yoshiko, Ryota’s mom, and Hiroshi Abe are immediately believable as mother and son. The two share some poignant conversations that will give the audience some things to chew on. The writing and performances are perfectly supplemented with music by a dynamic Japanese singer-songwriter who goes by Hanaregumi. The score is both playful and subtle and complements Koreeda’s style well. Yet, when all is said and done though, After the Storm is not a picture that’s going to move mountains of shift sands, but this might simply stem from the relationships that Koreeda is looking at here—the imperfect and happy but unhappy family—which is rooted in what was best described by Thoreau as humanity’s quiet desperation. In these character’s quiet desperation, there’s an insurmountable inertia. All of which is to say, if it’s not amply apparent, that After the Storm is largely a solemn affair. A well written, excellent performed and scored solemn affair, but solemn nonetheless. So, proceed at your own risk; those who find themselves already in an existential crisis may want to watch this film with caution.
Koreeda meets Tolstoy: a Japanese family is unhappy in its own way.