The setup for Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest film After the Storm could be straight out of a pulp crime novel: Ryota Shinoda (Hiroshi Abe) is a deadbeat private detective and inveterate gambler who has no qualms about blackmailing clients, seeking dubious pay-offs and spying on his ex-wife Kyoko (Yōko Maki) and her new partner.
Not only is Ryota unable to work honestly, but he’s also unable to make his monthly child support payments to Kyoko to help their 11-year-old son. He has therefore resorted to visiting the modest apartment of his elderly mother, Yoshiko (a sublime performance from Kirin Kiki), in search of any valuable possessions to pawn following the recent death of his father. Still in denial over his failed literary career which once brought him modest success and prizes, Ryoto continues to yearn for his ex-wife’s love and a life seemingly lost.
Given how this reads on paper, it may surprise those viewers unfamiliar with Kore-eda’s previous work that this is a director who, rather than venturing into murky film noir territory, sets out to immerse us in a deeply poignant, bittersweet family drama. Kore-eda is successful in evoking the spirit of the great Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu with this quietly realistic depiction of a middle-class Japanese family confronting life’s regrets and disappointments.
The titular storm might imply tempestuous family feuding typical of an over-the-top melodrama, but Kore-eda refrains from such an overblown approach. Rather, the storm in question refers to an approaching typhoon which has forced Ryota and his estranged family to spend an unwanted night at Yoshiko’s cramped apartment: much to the delight of the grandma, who proceeds to prepare some comfort food to warm the souls of her guests. However, simmering conflicts soon bubble to the surface and redemption for this fractured family may prove beyond reach.
In a different movie, one would feel very little sympathy for the film’s central character, so it is to Kore-eda’s credit that he manages to breathe such gentle warmth and humanity into all of the film’s protagonists, casting a delicate, unassuming eye over their various life choices with understated intelligence. It’s a film that gently serves up delicate morsels of wisdom as nourishing as anything lovingly prepared in the film’s cramped apartment kitchen. A subtle treat of a film.
After the Storm is in theatres now.
– Robin Davies