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.