Dwelling on his past glory as a prize-winning author, Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) wastes the money he makes as a private detective on gambling and can barely pay child support. After the death of his father, his aging mother (Kirin Kiki) and beautiful ex-wife (Yoko Make) seem to be moving on with their lives. Renewing contact with his initially distrusting family, Ryota struggles to take back control of his existence and to find a lasting place in the life of his young son (Taiyo Yoshizawa) - until a stormy summer night offers them a chance to truly bond again.Written by
In a relatively short time span, I've seen three films by Hirokazu Kore-Eda, and I'm planning to see many more. It seems most of his work is focused on family relations, and his films are touching, heartfelt real life dramas. The raw material for Kore-Eda's films are emotions, and the ways his protagonists express them in words and by their behaviour.
Like the two other films I've seen ('Our Little Sister' and 'Like Father, Like Son'), 'After the Storm' deals with parents, children, grandchildren and siblings. In this case, the central character is a divorced writer with financial problems, who has taken a job as a private detective to make ends meet. To keep up appearances, he pretends the job is a way of doing research for a new novel, but everyone knows there is no book.
His young son is very fond of his grandma, so they go visit her. But typhoon number 24 is approaching fast, and when the writer's ex-wife comes to the apartment to pick up the boy, the bad weather conditions prevent them from going home. They have to spend the night at the grandmother's house, just as if they were a normal family. And in a way, they almost are, during that one special night. After the storm, everything has returned to normal, except that the four of them are closer than they were before. The last shot is full of symbolism: the sun shines, but several broken and abandoned umbrellas are the witnesses of the stormy night.
It takes superior film making skills to turn such a story into a good movie. The emotions have to be measured out with care, in order to prevent it from turning into a tearjerker. The dialogue has to be natural, but at the same time not superficial. And the actors have to be completely believable. Just leave it to Kore-Eda: every scene is a joy to watch. It's those little things that make his characters so real: when his mother starts pleading him to stay the night, the writer says: oh, mother, please don't use this voice like you're almost dying. These are exactly the things mothers and sons say to each other, with a mix of affection and irritation.
The director also gives little hints and references which you only fully understand after a while. At the very beginning, the writer's mother remarks that a neighbour has moved to a bigger house. Only much later we learn that this has always been her own dream, and that she's tired of her own tiny apartment. I think it takes a second viewing to get all the tiny hints sprinkled throughout the story.
Are we what we hoped to be? And what was it exactly we hoped to be? Those are the questions 'After the Storm' deals with. There are no clear cut answers. But thinking about the questions makes this film worthwhile.
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