After the Storm
It seems like only yesterday that Japanese writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda gave moviegoers the thoroughly pleasant yet dramatically static Our Little Sister, and yet less than a year later he’s back with After the Storm.
Not that fans of quality world cinema are complaining, especially with few other working filmmakers specializing in the subtle, slice-of-life portraits he lovingly crafts.
Also working in After the Storm’s favor is that there’s more at stake than in Kore-eda's previous film, though his look at the Shinoda family remains fairly restrained in its tone.
Driving the action is quasi-giant Ryôta (Hiroshi Abe), a bit of a schizoid man who’s kind, caring and loving toward his recently widowed mother Yoshiko (Kirin Kiki), but shows a different side back home.
A prize-winning novelist once upon a time, Ryôta now works for a detective agency with the excuse that it’s merely to conduct research for his next book. Short, commentary-free scenes in his dingy, noisy apartment suggest otherwise and heartbreaking tangents highlighting a gambling addiction inherited from his father provide little hope that his circumstances will change.
Ryôta grows all the more tragic with the introduction of his preteen son Shingo (Taiyô Yoshizawa), whom he sees on a monthly basis – visits during which he desperately strives to impress the boy in their limited time together while dancing around the fact that he’s unable to pay his ex-wife Kyôko (Yoko Make) child support.
Eschewing expository dialogue in favor of natural discovery, Kore-eda paints a thorough portrait of a man adrift, yet also a figure for whom viewers wish good things despite poor decisions that test their patience. Never is this complex sentiment more evident than when Ryôta is offered a well-paying, life-changing job writing a manga, then promptly turns it down with the prideful lie that his new novel is in a critical, nearly complete stage.
With scenes this rich – and plenty of others that balance the melancholy with organically funny interactions – enacted by performers perfectly in tune with one another, After the Storm doesn’t need the constant slow zooms and curved pans that injected life into the otherwise uneventful Our Little Sister.
The length with which Kore-eda develops the Shinodas’ situation, however, is somewhat problematic as the typhoon alluded to in the film’s title doesn’t arrive until two-thirds of the way through its two hour runtime, though he largely compensates for the delay by making good on the titular potential.
Trapped under the same roof for the severe weather’s duration, there’s immense hope the formerly happy family will emerge as better, more mutually respectful people (if not more) – closing After the Storm with a quietly tantalizing suspense that wouldn’t exist without the intentionally measured build-up.
Grade: A-minus. Not rated but with some mature themes. Starts March 31 at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: Film Comment)