After Life (1998) Poster

(1998)

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10/10
The quality of our life
Howard Schumann25 October 2004
"When we come to the last moment of this lifetime and we look back across it, the only thing that's going to matter is 'What is the quality of our love?" - Richard Bach

One of the most commonly reported aspects of near-death experiences is the life review, the seeing and re-experiencing of major and trivial events of one's life, sometimes from the perspective of the other people involved. Most say that the single most important lesson they learned is that the actions we think are trivial and unimportant turn out to be the most important, especially ones that involve spontaneous acts of love. While not exactly a life review, in After Life by Hirokazu Koreeda, a group of recently deceased people are asked to look back at their life and choose only one memory from their life that they want to take with them to eternity. The process compels people to look at their life in its entirety and see what worked and what was missing.

Set in a dreary barracks-like way station, civil servants meet with those just crossed over to help them choose the experience they want to hold on to. For some, the choice is easy, for others it is difficult. Those that will not or cannot choose are consigned to work in the substation with the newly deceased until they are ready to move on. The counselors work one on one with each individual telling them that they have three days to make their choice. Once a memory is selected, a film crew recreates the memory-- sets are built and the little touches of sights and sounds are selected until the deceased are satisfied that they are witnessing a perfect recreation of their experience. It is that film that they take with them, not the original memory.

At first some choose things such as a trip to Disneyland, a sexual encounter, or a memorable bowl of rice but later gravitate toward experiences that are more meaningful. The center of the film revolves around those who are unable to choose. Ichiro Watanabe (Taketoshi Naito) is a 70-year old management consultant who has led an uneventful life and is challenged to find a memory he thinks is worth preserving for all time. To help him in this process, he is allowed to scan through piles of videotapes representing each year of his life. One young man wants to choose a dream instead of an actual event. Another wants to forget his past entirely, and an elderly woman is stuck in the mindset of a nine-year old girl.

After Life is the story of the caseworkers as well. Takashi Mochizuki (Arata) has been stuck in limbo because he cannot find any happiness in his twenty-two years until he realizes how his short life deeply affected someone else. His perfect realization also affects a co-worker Shiori (Erika Oda) who has fallen in love with him. After Life is a beautiful and touching film that allows us to reflect on the things that brought us joy in our own life, and to recognize that true happiness lies, not in outward symbols of success, but in giving ourselves to others.
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9/10
A thought experiment for humanists (and for humanists only)
KFL29 April 2001
The Afterlife is best thought of as a kind of thought experiment, perhaps in the same vein as Groundhog Day. The point is not that this may be what we experience after death; it is rather that we need to think more about what it is in this life that we'd really like to keep with us forever.

This point needs emphasis. When asked what we want most in life, most of us will talk about our career, or a business venture perhaps, or some other accomplishment. This movie suggests that these kinds of things may not, at the end of the day, be so important as some other experiences we may have. In any case, it challenges us to rethink what it is we really value.

Some reviewers complain about the quite ordinary surroundings and "poor production values" of the movie. I prefer to think of the choice of sets etc as humble and realistic. Could any movie, whatever its budget, ever possibly do justice to this subject matter?

Much of this movie is devoted to explorations of the lives of a number of rather ordinary people, trying to identify their most cherished memories. Some reviewers have condemned The Afterlife as boring, boring, BORING on this account. It all depends on whether other people interest you. If all you want to see is car chases, sex, explosions, cool special effects,...avoid this movie. Only, it's worth noting that the lives and thoughts of others may help us to better understand ourselves. And nowhere more so than in this movie.
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9/10
Beautiful.
henry's_cat1 January 2001
Afterlife is another film offering an answer to the unanswerable question "What happens after you die? ". Although this has been asked many times through cinema in the past, few films have answered as elegantly as Afterlife.

Directly after dying the departed are received by a group of counsellors who assist them in finding what was, for them, the most beautiful and perfect, single experience of their lives. For some the choice is easy and they are instantly able to provide the moment, which, once recreated by technicians, they remain in forever but the majority of the film concentrates upon those who are unable to find their perfect moment, and need extra help to recall past loves and lost days of their youth. The institution has the perfect means to assist this choice, with the complete life of everyone on grainy home-video, perhaps a comment on the tehcnology and recording-obsessed Japanese.

Many of the scenes are visually exceptional, especially those in the snow and everything seems very real, and, ironically, down-to-earth, especially the school building being used throughout the film giving an institutional feeling, but the interaction between the staff is where the film holds its true strength. Especially interesting is the relationship between Shiori, a newly employed worker, and Mochizuki, her mentor, which develops throughout. The film is slow to start due to the documentary style often used, but proceeds in an enveloping manner holding your attention to the end. Along with "Heaven can wait" and "Beetlejuice" this film offers another novel look at life, death and the hereafter.

The Japanese title was "Wandafuru raifu" (wonderful life, after Frank Capra) and, even though the film is dealing with death, it is a statement of how wonderful life is.

I loved this film and it stuck me stunningly and reminded me of how good films can be when they try.
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10/10
Wandafuru movie!
Ben-11310 January 2000
I really loved Kore-eda's first feature "Maboroshi No Hikari", so I had been looking forward very much to seeing "Afterlife" (named "Wandafuru raifu" in Japanese, after Frank Capra's movie "It's a wonderful Life") during its run in London.

At first I noticed that the film is formally very different from its predecessor; while "Maboroshi No Hikari" owes much to the influence of Ozu, and especially Hou Hsiao-hsien, "Afterlife" draws more on the directors background as a documentary filmmaker. What the two films share, however, is the theme of memory (Note: also a theme with Hirokazu Kore-eda's documentary work - check out "Without Memory", about a man suffering of severe amnesia). In "Maboroshi No Hikari" Yumiko is not able to forget the memory of her dead husband, whereas in "Afterlife" the recently deceased must chose one memory that will accompany them into eternity.

I feel that Kore-eda handles this entirely hypothetical premise in the best possible way, by steering completely clear of the stylistic superficialities with which so many other films about life after death desperately try to make themselves believable. The unspectacular old school building as a setting, the ceiling window with its interchangeable templates for the different stages of the moon, a character who himself has doubts as to whether this is really the best way of going to the next world and the absence of any religious connotations, among other things, all serve to keep the focus on the characters and their memories - many of whom are actually real. Apart from tongue in cheek humour, the lack of music also prevents over-sentimentalization and makes the memories the people recall the more sincere. The no-budget filming of the recollections of the deceased in order to trigger their personal memory, toward the end of the movie, also illustrates that the director is fully aware of his own limitations and possibilities as a film-maker. Rather than just trying to create the illusion of some half-baked version of the hereafter, he wants to challenge the viewer to reflect on what would be his/her most important memory - and succeeds in every way.

This is a movie that surly can be appreciated by anyone who possesses at least a tiniest inkling of openness and willingness to experience cinema as more than mere entertainment. Top mark for this one!
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9/10
Visually electric
dodgee_693 June 2005
Afterlife is without a doubt one of the greatest Japanese films I've ever seen. Visually it is truly stunning. Kore Eda is known for his own obsession with lighting and his skill for casting shadows and beams of white light are second to none. Combined with an innovative, creative and enjoyable story that takes on a slightly supernatural docu-drama and at the same time is set in a dull, down and out halfway house between Earth(life) and heaven(afterlife). Fascinating scenes take place as the deceased have one week to decide on a single memory from their lifetime that they can keep for all eternity. He also includes elements of documentary with talking head scenes of the deceased talking about their memories. Kore Eda throws around some extremely interesting ideas and themes on life and human emotions for our memories and he genuinely makes you think about what he's said once you've finished watching.

This is a film that not everyone would enjoy due to its slow moving pace, mood orientated lighting and partly improvised script, but it is a creative masterpiece that is definitely worthy of high praise and attention.
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7/10
The Best Moment of Our Lives
Claudio Carvalho30 September 2006
Every Monday morning, a team of advisors welcome in a facility a group of people that has just died with the mission of helping each one of them to select their best memory that will last for the eternity in the first three days. On Thursday, filmmakers begin to recreate the selected memory, and in the end of the week they screen it in a movie theater and he or she moves to Heaven.

I bought "Wandâfuru Raifu", or "After Life" on DVD, since I was very intrigued with the summary on its cover. I saw this low budget movie spoken in Japanese with English subtitles and I found the story very original and provocative. The premise of rebuilding eternity along a week, like God created Earth, and Heaven be a projection of a movie of the best memory one could have, is fantastic. In spite of having unexplained points, like for example the need itself of lasting with only one single memory, and inconsistencies, like why the need of shooting the memory, if the staff can bring videotapes of the entire life, what matters is the originality of this unique movie. One point that has always impressed me in cinema is the fact the actors and actresses last forever in the eyes of the audiences along generations. In this movie, each one of us has the chance to be an actor or actress, and write our own screenplay. Further, I personally recalled many good moments of my life just because of the storyline of this movie, and I found how difficult it could be to select only one good moment of my life to last forever. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "Depois da Vida" ("After Life")
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10/10
Illusion and memory in cinema
freakus16 August 1999
I think this film is as much about film-making as it is about "Heaven". I think the previous comment about creating lasting illusion on limited budgets pointed to the heart of this film. It is about a love of cinema much like "Cinema Paradiso".

A small crew of people have to create memories that last forever with shaky props and jury-rigged effects but it doesn't matter. The viewer is an active participant and memory can be revived with the barest of props and sets. Isn't that the ESSENCE of film, memory and active participation by the audience is why a film delights. The more you can relate to a film and understand it in terms of your own life, the more satisfying the whole experience is.
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9/10
A quietly stunning fantasy as documentary.
alice liddell6 December 1999
One of the few masterpieces of the year, and a rare sighting of a new talent who will surely become one of the greats. Fantasy is once again shown to be the most flexible of all forms - it can sustain profound metaphysical questions as well as examinations into Japanese history, culture and society. But, most importantly, it is the true form to examine people - their hopes and desires, fears and failures. Despite the buff hue and downbeat tone, AFTER LIFE is a comedy, it celebrates life even as it ends, even as it disappoints. It also makes the strongest case for - and against - filmmaking in recent memory.
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8/10
One of my all time favourites
I saw this movie in the theatre. It is always a pleasure to be at a viewing where there is spontaneous applause at the end. This is one of those movies. It speaks to your very soul. I understand that quite a few of the cast were not professional actors, but spoke from their own lifetime experiences. There is a very simple premise: you get to choose the most favourite moment of your life after you are dead and then help to recreate it, staging, cast of characters, scene - and the total non-professional manufacturing of this moment I found very touching - so that it can be savoured for all eternity. The perfect heaven. Of course some recently dead people can't think of anything, some remember very simple things, some are given assistance, like the record of their entire life in video form to review and extract a memory, if they can. The cast and direction is brilliant. I shudder to think of what modern Hollywood would do with this ("What dreams may come" being a case in point). It was all extremely simple and believable and has certainly had me talking about it for quite a while since I have seen it. 8 out of 10.
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10/10
In Heaven...There Is A Shortage Of Chairs
Joseph Sylvers9 May 2010
What is the happiest moment of your life? If you had to pick one moment, one memory to keep with you and the rest were going to be erased what would it be? This is the central question of Afterlife a film about life, memory, happiness, movie making, and only in tangent, death. A group of dead people arrive at a dilapidated building where they are told to select a single memory that they will dwell in for all eternity. Heaven as it turns out is only a memory. The film is mostly these people talking directly into the camera documentary style reflecting on what was most important to them.

I recently told a friend about this movie, who told me it sounded "corny", and if the film had only been about these people I, might agree. I told my friend that I liked the film because while watching it I reflected on my entire life, and what happiness had meant to me during it. I was almost shocked and a little saddened by how quickly I came to realize what my moment was, like the movie as a whole it leaves a bittersweet taste. My friend told me they didn't think about their life that way, and that it would be too depressing to do so. I told her that someone in the movie says that too, and what made the movie as a whole so good and not just a clever concept was how honest it was about the complications between notions of a meaningful life, nostalgia, and personal happiness.

The dead have a half a week to choose which memory they want and the rest of the week is spent filming the memories in a sound studio. The screening at the end of the week is to be their moment of "ascension". Though silent at first the "counselors" shooting these memory-movies are not separate from the process, they too are dead. Takashi and his trainee Shiori we see handle most of the cases.

Afterlife despite its title is not a film about death, but about memory and self-reflection. Two characters become problematic early on, one an old man who says he cant remember his life clearly enough to choose a specific moment, the other a young man who refuses to chose a moment, insisting it would be "avoiding responsibility for his life" and a surrender to empty nostalgia. Takashi becomes interested in the old man's case(for personal reasons we discover later), and has the man's life sent to him on videotape so that he may observe and report, in a quieter variation on Albert Brook's "Defending Your Life" (a conceptual cousin to Afterlife).

Afterlife is about producing films that capture only a single moment and that only have meaning to single person; films that will only be screened once, but will be remembered literally forever. They are so personal as to be inconsequential to anyone but their intended viewer, but I couldn't think of a more meaningful type of film to make both for an audience and their creators. I think this is why many people watch films, at times to identify and at others to connect with what is unidentifiable.

Russian silent film director Aleksandr Medvedkin used to travel the USSR on a train stopping at random villages and asking the people what their problems, issues, and concerns were and then asked for their assistance in making a film about just that. Doing this Medvedkin wanted to give cinema to the masses. The world of Afterlife likewise gives cinema to the individual.

There are sprinklings of melodrama in the film towards the end, but they allow the characters to actually reach important conclusions that the film wouldn't have been able to connect together otherwise. Even if you can't remember your own moment, isn't it possible that you are an extra or a main character in someone else's, and nothing as dramatic as some old flame pining over you, but maybe a moment spent with a friend or a family member. Maybe your parent's happiest moment was when you were born. It's only from an imaginary position like an Afterlife that we have the distance to reflect on such grand feelings intimately and sincerely.

Since were not dead, this question can be written off as sophomoric or corny, our best days may in fact still be ahead. But I wonder if without some prior sense of what is truly beautiful, meaningful, and warm fuzziness incarnate whether we can know true bliss when we finally see it. This is assuming it's something you can even know when you see it, and not something that only occurs with memory. I was once told in a Sunday Sermon, happiness is predicated on happenings and events, but joy was something internal that had little relation to the outside world. Personally I think real happiness is created when memories generate joy that later events cannot soil or touch.

The only objections I could reasonably see are often spoken by the characters themselves, particularly the young man, who thinks the entire system is flawed; what do they do if a baby dies for instance? My own moment (and no I will not tell you nor anyone else) was actually quite "corny", in fact it was the first time in my life I realized why a certain kind of sentimentality existed. This movie is sentimental for sure, but it's definitely sincere. If we get lucky in this universe and there is an Afterlife, we would all be very fortunate to find ourselves in a movie theaters like these with kind hearted counselors to help us grieve for and accept our lives, and if there isn't well at least there's still movies like Afterlife; things worth seeing, things worth talking about, and things worth sharing with each other.
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8/10
Documentary like realism of people and their re-examination of their life
lingmeister8 December 2002
The movie is told in such a way that the people coming in reveals themselves in such a way that they all realize that there is a part of themselves in which it is truly good, even if it is deeply buried. The way it is filmed, as if it is a documentary, provides the cunning realism that you would not ordinarily achieve in regular film. Even at the end, we discover the true reason one of the counselor stayed around instead of moving on. Truly a touching and thought provoking film. It will make you try to think for yourself which memory you would cherish forever, even if it is single one.
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8/10
Can you pick your best memory?
lastliberal23 November 2008
This was a perfect film for watching on a quiet Sunday morning. It made me reflect on my own life, and realize that I would probably be one of the counselors in the afterlife.

It was brilliantly written and directed and one of the most innovative stories I have seen on screen. After death, you spend a week in a way-station to reflect on your life and take one memory with you. It is not an easy process as I discovered.

I was interested in the fact that some people can remember all the way back to the womb. Picking a happy memory before I was an adult is almost impossible for me, so I cannot imagine going back that far. Most people remember only to age three or four.

I was fascinated with the man who wanted to leave behind some evidence of his existence. One man could not remember any happy memories in his 70+ years, so he had to sit through video tapes, one for each year of his life, to help him. It seems that there was a connection with one of the counselors and this played out in an unusual way at the end. Choosing your best memory as the fact that you were someone else's best memory and that you made one person happy.

Most of us fall into the category expressed by one man. "I had a so-so education, a so-so job, a so-so marriage, and a so-so retirement." How do you pick a happy or important memory from that? I also liked one man's response when he picked his memory after lamenting that most of the memories of his life were bad. After being told he would forget all the bad memories, he exclaimed, "That truly is heaven." An unusual film that will be in my memory for a long time.
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4/10
A story of life, death and the power of memory
The_Film_Cricket28 August 2005
It is probably safe to say that very few films these days know very much about real life. Safer to say that most films these days know even less about the nature of death. A lot of movies about death are more interested in the celestial wallpaper. The afterlife on film is usually a perspective on what Heaven and Hell might look like and those who die are usually more interested in tying up romantic loose ends or returning to unfinished business. Very few films have ever matter-of-factly considered the afterlife from the point of view of the traveler who has crossed the threshold to the undiscovered country.

Hirokazu Koreeda's Afterlife is almost alone in it's contemplation on the importance of the single moment or moments that shape our humanity. In 1999, Koreeda created this absolutely beautiful examination of the stopover between life and death where the choice of a lifetime must be made: What single memory would you carry with you to your eternal reward? The examination is vessled by 22 travelers who, for various reasons, have died and arrive from a white light to a place that is neither here nor there. They are in a way-station between the end of life and their eternal lodgings. The counselors who work here meet and interview several recently dead people each week. The travelers are tasked with choosing one memory from a lifetime that they will carry over into the eternity that awaits them. Once a memory is selected it will be turned into a film and screened before the patron vanishes with the memory, all other memories having been eliminated.

But what memory? What single memory is worth an eternity? Carrying the best memory would be heaven while surely carrying the worst would be hell. To that end the travelers find this a difficult task for various reasons. One man discovers that he has no memory that he wishes to carry on. Another discovers that he has too many. One decides that it was her experience on the Splash Mountain ride at Disneyland.

We meet these people through interviews while the staff works diligently to create the productions for the films that will be screened. We learn very little about the staff who have apparently chosen to spend eternity at the station helping others select a memory. There is a moment when we come close, a connection between one of the patrons and the man who didn't think that he had a memory (of this I will leave you to discover). This moment provides one of the most emotional moments in the film and provides him with a reason for choosing the memory most precious to his heart.

This is the most profound examination of the nature of humanity that I have ever seen on film. There are no special effects, no gimmickry, no scenes that are thrown together to hold our interest. This is a movie that very gently reaches out to those lucky enough to be caught up in it's contemplative spell and to be spellbound by it's message The message is that memory is all we have. No matter what financial or possessive objects we have gained in our lives our memories lie at the core of what makes us intelligent beings. It is the thing that connects our learning, our maturity and shapes our social connection. It is the core of our being, the connection point of our humanity.

On the emotional level, the film works through contemplation, through imagining ourselves as the wayward patrons. The movie sees the selection process as very matter of fact. Koreeada is more interested in the people who have arrived here than in the place to which they have arrived. That spareness allows us to contemplate their process rather than their surroundings.

I saw After Life shortly after it's initial release in 1999 and years later it still resonates in my mind. When I am idle, staring at the ceiling when sleep refuses to settle my mind, I contemplate the question posed by Koreeda's film and to this day I am nowhere near a decision. If I had to choose one memory it might be agony because my number of candidates would go as high as five hundred or if I wrote them down closer to a thousand. For that, I feel fortunate, fortunate and grateful that my life can contain that kind of contentment. If I am given the kind of task given to the people in After Life, it is my hope that whatever I settle on can be turned into a film that is as gentle, peaceful and affirming as Koreeda's beautiful work.
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This film is both wonderful and very difficult to watch: but in a good way.
Pseudo-geordie boy29 May 2001
This small and low budget film creeps up on you, like the eventual realisation that the person you truly love is no longer in your life, and this film makes you realise that too! It is set in a kind of half-way house between death and the place you go afterwards. A limbo of sorts. Once in this limbo you have a week to choose a single memory, that is later recreated in film for you to keep, to take with you forever and all the rest of your life vanishes: which as one person who we see choose says what a good idea: to let your life be largely forgotten. The paradox is of course that as you watch this film memories come out of everywhere: passed loves, childhood memories: first day at school, immature early teen moments, regrets. That's why this film is difficult, not for anything in the film but for what you get out of it, and the difficulty you find concentrating on it, memories come from everywhere to interrupt the film and take you away from watching it. This is the first film I have ever seen that has been able to do this all the way through. Like some universal filmed diary; and I've seen this film twice now and it does every time and the same memories too! And if you've seen this and thought well it was all right I suppose, watch it again at a later date and it really does get much much better the second time; I can't wait for the third time I see it it'll probably become the best film I have ever seen.

But the film itself once you've managed to push yet another of your own memories away long enough to actually concentrate on it is full of little wonderful tiny touches that just resonate in you. One particular scene, that gives nothing of the film away, is when an old lady, who has no real memories, chooses the time she used to just sit and watch and feel cherry blossoms brush and fall over her in a park, and once this is filmed you can see such joy in her eyes: and then later she saves some of the blossoms which she in turn gives, in an old plastic bag, to the guy who was in charge of her choice so that he can in turn remember the times spent with his three year old daughter, which he said earlier reminded him of her. The end is also particularly moving when we learn about one of the other workers there who help people decide what memory to keep with them. He is the star of the film without question: his very distant and beautiful screen presence makes the end once you get to know who he is all the more difficult to watch: the knowing that he eventually comes to terms with his life enough to be able move on, and his very simple film(memory) remains with you for a long time afterwards. This film is very slow to begin, but once it grabs you, which it eventually will: even if like me it took until the second time, it stays and makes you wonder long after what memory you would keep. But I guess everyone thinks about that after seeing this. Better make sure that before you die there is something good to choose.
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10/10
Don't let the literalists steer you away from this film
mark-50619 September 1999
Time after time, this lovely little movie gets trashed by western critics (and would-be critics) who are so absorbed with imposing their own strict guidelines as to what a movie about the afterlife should be about (just as they may with the idea of the afterlife itself) that they too quickly write off this wistful meditation on the beauty of ordinary life and the power of human memory.

Yes, the film is slow, but I don't think a moment should be trimmed. It takes time, after all, to follow the paths of some 20 odd "newly dead" characters, as well as the half dozen caseworkers assigned to them, to their conclusions, and "After Life" does so in a surprisingly clear-headed and satisfying way. Not for a moment is the viewer confused as to who is who - a special feat for western eyes viewing an Asian film.

That a film can have the power to make disparate viewers reflect upon their own lives afterward is significant enough to highly recommend "Afterlife" to anybody currently alive - the grouches of this comments page notwithstanding.

And a special nod towards the casting: I deeply admire the ability of many contemporary Japanese films (such as "Shall We Dance?" and "Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald") to create such a wide variety of well-formed and memorable characters with just a few gestures and the right faces. It's an ability that was once mastered by Hollywood studio films, now since entirely lost - the notion of the "character" role replaced by an outbreak of barely indistinguishable, poorly fleshed-out "types."
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Once over lightly
nunculus4 August 1999
After death, people are stationed in a low-tech holding facility where they are required to choose a single memory from life. This moment of joy--or whatever's closest to it--becomes a loop that is their experience of eternity.

The gingerliness of the filmmaking, combined with the warmth and zeal of the afterlife staffers, who resemble idealistic Greenpeace volunteers, gives the movie a pleasing, judgmentless humanism. The atmosphere is gentle, reassuring, love-imbued; the scenes of old folks recalling a childhood joy have the mood-stabilizing affect of a Jewel song. But after a while, the lack of real conflict makes lethargy. And the movie's low-budget conception of Heaven Construction--one's prized memory is preserved on video, with Blair Witch production values--starts to seem claustrophobic and iffy. After a while, malaise rolls in like fog.
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10/10
A Beautiful Meditation On Life And Death ... And Movies
David30 November 2002
This is among my favorite recent Japanese films - it's actually among my favorites ever.

As an exploration of themes of life, death and the transitory delicacy of memory (I'd heard that this film was inspired by the alzheimers-related decline of Hirokazu Kore-eda's grandfather) it approaches the subject matter with a unique grace, playfulness and humor, which only serves to strengthen the overall impact. I like the look of the film - the occasional hand-held camera work lends a spontaneous and personal tone to the film that underscores many of the most touching moments.

The 'reenactments' of selected memories also struck me as great, affectionate allegories for the process of making movies, or at least personal movies like this. The allegory itself is simple, but in this film it adds yet another level of complexity and grace.

Overall, a moving, quietly dazzling film. Very highly recommended.
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7/10
This very Japanese tale of a Zen afterlife is at its best when focusing on real people telling their best stories.
storyguy18 February 1999
While sporadically fascinating as a foreign art film, the movie nonetheless is likely to be of interest only to a specialized audience in the U.S. It represents a very Japanese version of such films as WHAT DREAMS MAY COME or DEFENDING YOUR LIFE.

One of the points of interest is the film's Buddhist Japanese attitude towards death and eternity, so different from what most Americans and Europeans think of. The key plot point of the movie is that everyone spends eternity in endless contemplation of one perfect moment from their lives. This notion differs drastically from the western emphasis on variety as the spice of life -- or death. Compare Wim Wenders' film, UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD, in which a group of westerners are emotionally and intellectually crippled by having to sort through their inmost thoughts and memories.

Our hell is usually depicted as a place where one must carry out pointless repetitive tasks or where one is forced into an obsession with the past (as in WHAT DREAMS MAY COME); heaven is usually thought of as listening to music, living in palaces, and socializing with a wide array of friends and loved ones. The Buddhist heaven suggested by this movie comes all too close to resembling a Sartrian hell in a westerner's eyes. Thus most American filmgoers would have no idea what the story was hoping to convey by insisting on the choice of a single cherished memory. Those with an interest in a different perspective may find the film thought-provoking.

It's less clear what the movie is getting at by suggesting that the afterlife is a place where people must make movies of their lives on limited budgets and with inadequate props. Perhaps the filmmaker is merely making a joke about filmmaking. Or perhaps he's trying to suggest that film is the ultimate artistic format, most closely tied to people's actual experiences of life. A little movie magic is all that's necessary to capture the gist of reality, even if the technical aspects of production seem cheap and mundane. Either way, the filmmaking references are likely to be lost on mainstream audiences.

Even when judged as a Japanese film, the movie is successful primarily when it relies on actual documentary interviews with old folks. Listening to these non-actors trying to describe the best memories of their lives is absolutely fascinating, whereas the drama narrated by the film is considerably less engaging.
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10/10
This movie definitely gets you thinking about where you've been...
canunpawinyan13 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
So you're dead, and what happens next? Where/how do you spend the rest of eternity? Now, one of my friends tells me that this is a love story...hanging on to the one you love forever and not letting go! I had to think about that one. I saw the movie for what was most obviously presented...what is your most precious memory in this lifetime. This film made me ponder the entire night...I actually reviewed my life up until that point in time. Poignant? You bet! This film will set you thinking about the human experience. I purchased this film for the library I work in. I recommend it highly. Very artistic, the setting, the characters...so real. Definitely a 10 in my book.
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10/10
beautiful
Cindy-391 October 2000
I was interested in seeing After Life after reading some good

reviews, but was hesitant because it was only playing at a

theater 30 miles away, and was only available on Sunday

mornings. Well, I can now say, it was well worth the trip.

After Life is an absolutely gorgeous film. It deals with its

subject matter in a most genuine and sweet fashion, never

cloying or smug about its concept. The characters approach the

subject of life, death, and memories from every angle, and the

results are sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious, but always real.

The setting was also chosen perfectly. This building which

serves as a crossroads for people who have died looks just like

a youth hostel. The building is old and plain, but comforting,

like a memory in itself. It's interesting that the rules for

the film's concept are actually very shaky. For instance, the

deceased will experience their memories through a recreation

done by actors, even though they have access to videotapes of

the actual events of that person's life. Why use actors to

reenact the event when they have film footage of the original

event? But this doesn't matter because the film seems to be

about the way humans deal with the situations. And since humans

are flexible, the rules a
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9/10
Look at what this film has, not at what it doesn't have
stharward8 July 2000
Granted, Wandafuru raifu is a very slow-paced, minimalist film. It has a pretty drab set, the cinematography is far from flashy, the acting is so reserved it comes off as somewhat wooden, and it takes a lot of patience to get through the long takes. The entire premise of the story is very artificial, and there are a lot of valid "But what about...?" questions you can ask.

But to add any more would ruin the movie, because even though there are a lot of things you might find missing, there's already more than enough there. The concept is original and poignant, and the presentation is such that it allows for viewers to put themselves into the story right alongside the characters and think, "What memory would I take with me?" If that thought even crosses your mind (as it apparently did even for those who thought the film "boring" or "poorly presented"), then Koreeda has succeeded. It leaves us not with an answer, but with a question.

If you want a movie that presents a complex story and ties up all its loose ends in a nice pretty bow at the end, go see the blockbuster-film-of-the-week at your local cinemegaplex. If you don't mind open-ended stories that require a little more from your higher-order brain functions, take the time to watch and wonder at Wandafuru raifu.
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One of my favorite movies, ever.
PH!L!IP21 December 1999
Warning: Spoilers
I'm not going to bother summarizing anything; at this point, the other 22 comments have done a pretty exhaustive job of that.

I want to point out an element of this film's appeal that hasn't yet been emphasized in this forum: its modesty. (I don't know if anything I'm about to discuss could be taken as a "spoiler," since this isn't a very plot-driven movie, but if you don't want to take that chance, please don't read further.)

Yes, you could certainly see many of the characters' cherished memories as hopeless cliches, and the soundstage on which they're filmed is in fact pretty damn rinky-dink. I can't argue with that. But I will say that such a dismissal of this movie's content seems to me to indicate a real failure of empathy: Are folks so hung up on novelty, on the extraordinary, that they can't see any beauty at all in a perfectly humdrum life? (What about your life, or mine?) Are the only people worth caring about all full-color glossy hundred-foot-high superstars?

For me it's not boring or disappointing that, say, the indecisive gentleman chooses to sit on a park bench for eternity with his wife. Return to his decision in your mind for a moment: What is it saying? I think it's a comment not on the afterlife but on just how little will do in the here and now, how little we'll wake up for in the morning, how absolutely unkillable our hope for ourselves is, how abjectly we devote ourselves to enduring our lives even when there's no reward waiting for us. It's saying that any tiny moment, no matter how empty it may seem, can contain enough to sustain us forever.

Can contain enough what? I can't say, exactly. Under this movie's quiet surfaces, it seems desperately urgent to answer that question: Enough what? Yes, yes, it says, this is what your life is made of! Frowning at newspapers and sitting on trains and eating hundreds of breakfasts in silence. This is it! So what does it mean? What is it for? Better make it mean something, because no one else can do that for you. Nobody's waiting to buy the film rights to your last fight with your girlfriend, father, roommate, whatever. Nobody cares what your favorite song is. Nobody cares how you feel whenever you walk past that one willow tree, where the two of you kissed for the last time.

That's the mercilessness at the core of this otherwise very tender and beautiful story: You mean nothing. Nobody means anything. You have to look inside yourself and choose to cherish something, any damn thing, because otherwise you might as well be dead already.

I don't know. I'm just running off at the mouth. I'm not going to convince anybody to see this film, I don't think. It's an obscure Japanese number, and the subtitles are often hard to read (white text against snow--ouch). But for what it's worth: "After Life" will reward your patience. It's sweet and understated and funny and deeply moving. For once, you may cry at a movie without resenting it later.
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9/10
excellent
petshop4 February 1999
A fascinating film taking place in the after-life, where the recently deceased are given three days to pick their one favorite memory. As the others will be erased. Those memories will then be re-enacted and filmed, to carry over into the afterlife.

The film goes beyond this gimmicky concept (I love gimmicky concepts) and delves deep into the meanings behind it. What if someone didn't choose? What if someone is insane and still basically living in that memory? What if someone doesn't have a memory yet?

The method of the film is interesting as well. The latest batch of recently deceased are a mix of professional actors and genuine interviewees. Most of it is unscripted, and the results are realistic and energetic.

The pacing sags a bit near the second third of the film, and some fundamental questions (like, isn't living with one memory basically a hell?) are missed. But it's an amazing experience nevertheless.
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8/10
Humor, pathos and intellect all in one film!
Barbara13 July 2006
I absolutely loved this film, although I realize it's not for everyone.

Most of it consists of delicate little snippets of conversation with a group of recently deceased people. They relate stories of moments in their lives, with such beauty and poignancy and realism that one could imagine this a documentary. The "acting" (although it hardly seems to be acting at all!) is uniformly excellent.

In tiny snatches, we come to know quite lot about them. Best of all, the movie makes you think about life -- have we lived the kind of life that creates a memory we'd want to spend eternity with? Kore-eda Hirokazu (the director) manages that rare combination of humor, pathos and intellect that makes this film a winner.
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