We’ve all been there.
At some point in our monotonous, dreary lives we’ve seen an advertisement somewhere for the lottery and asked ourselves, ‘what would I do with twelve million pounds?’ Would you spend that money on your family? Would you buy a jet and fly around the world? Admit it: at some point in the last six months you’ve contemplated the thought of walking into your workplace, dressed in nothing but an adult nappy, giving your boss the ‘ol two-finger salute, before proceeding to defecate all over the floor whilst screaming like a wailing, baby-banshee, ‘I’ve just won twelve million pounds!’
Is that not how your mind drifted with the possibility of winning loads of money? Just me then? Oh…
‘After the Storm,’ follows Ryota (played by Hiroshi Abe, giving one of the best performances in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s films) a father, an ex-husband and once-upon-a-time novelist unable to live in the present. He’s constantly yearning for what he’s lost in the past or dreaming about what he could achieve in the future. His hopes are that he’ll win the lottery so that he has the money to win his family back, mistaking material items for emotional absence. It almost feels that Abe played the character as a victim, that in some way he’s just been dealt a bad hand for the last several years and after an injection of money he’ll be able to get everything back on track. It helps that Abe has the perfect hangdog face for the role: he’s unable to make eye contact easily with those apparently closet to him, completing the dogged, weary, forsaken novelist look with uncombed hair and unshaven face.
Ryota won a prestigious award for his first novel, but hasn’t written anything of merit since. And it’s been 15 years since his debut, ‘The Empty Table,’ hit the shelves. You get the feeling that his gambling problems are the reason his wife (Kyoko) has left him. He works as a private detective but tells other people that it’s research for his next novel, as the job seems underneath him. On paper the character would come across as a sleazy, unsympathetic cretin – here’s a guy that blackmail’s surveillance targets for kickbacks, spies on his wife’s dates and steals anything of value from his mother’s frugal home and blows whatever yen he manages to make at the race tracks, but all the while has been failing to pay child maintenance for the last three months – he’s the kind of man who offers money (that he can’t really afford) to his mother (played sublimely by Kirin Kiki) and then asks to borrow some from his sister. He so desperately wants to impress those about whom he cares deeply, but does so in a way that alienates and pushes them further away…and yet we can also easily see the good man underneath the surface of all these problems.
“I wonder why it is that men can’t love the present,” his mother asks later in the film, showcasing an exceptional performance from Kirin Kiki that is slightly reminiscent of Catherine Scorsese in Goodfellas, a woman whose dialogue spikes with dry humor but also has profound and deeply resonating advice to give to her son. But to compare her as a side character is an insult – in many ways this is her movie, too. In one scene, through their conversation we learn that Yoshiko and Kyoko have put up with a lot in marriage (mainly with their husbands) and have stoically brought up the children, regardless of the problems they have faced. There’s a real sense that the women have an ethereal wisdom and graciousness that the men do not, or cannot display.
“Either they keep chasing whatever it is they’ve lost, or they keep dreaming beyond their reach.” It is with this exchange that we realise that Ryota has been doing both in a deeply saddening way.
Hirokazu Kore-eda doesn’t seem to be interested particularly in major plot twists or set pieces, so you’ll not find any last act Hollywood style redemptive chases to the airport, declarations of love or uncharacteristic deus ex machina devices at play here; instead Kore-eda focuses on the subtle human emotions at play, and with ‘After The Storm,’ it hinges perfectly with this dysfunctional family dynamic. Be warned, however – those hoping for a fast paced story may need to look elsewhere; it’s a slow movie, deliberately so – just as we learn at the start of the film that a typhoon is about to hit the city, it takes a couple of days for Ryota to find himself stuck in his mother’s flat with his estranged wife and son. You could suggest that the impending typhoon would be the perfect metaphor for Ryota’s emotions reaching a booming crescendo, but there are no grand revelations or passionate breakdowns on offer here – there are simply adult conversations as a man tries to spend a rare night with his family. There’s an old saying that goes: ‘May you live as long as you want but never want as long as you live,’ and it feels that we’re watching Ryota reconcile the differences between the two.
‘After the Storm,’ may not bring the thunder when it comes to onscreen exhilaration, but at a time fuelled mostly by hyper real superhero movies, explosions, aliens and other CGI token elements, it’s so refreshing to watch something that has been lacking in most AAA films of recent years.
There are hints and references throughout the film that you may not notice on your first viewing, (the mother remarks that a neighbour has moved into a bigger house in the neighbourhood, only to discover later on that this has always been her dream) and each character in their own way has hopes and aspirations that they may not be able to achieve, but there are morsels of real life wisdom sprinkled throughout the narrative – leaving the viewer asking themselves questions such as, ‘are we what we hoped to be? How many of us are where we imagined to be in life?’
So…are you right where you want to be in life?
Review by Anthony Self
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