AFTER THE STORM (2017)
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Cast: Hiroshi Abe, Yōko Maki, Taiyō Yoshizawa, Kirin Kiki, Satomi Kobayashi, Sosuke Ikematsu, Lily Franky, Isao Hashizume
Running Time: 1:57
Release Date: 3/17/17 (limited); 4/14/17 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | April 13, 2017
The man insists that he isn't and doesn't want to be like his recently deceased father, but he is certainly racking up debt in the same way that his old man did. The man complains about the way that men of this day and age have become petty and jealous in a way that no longer makes them real men, but he follows his ex-wife and does some background research on her new boyfriend. He says he wants to be a good father to his son, but he's three months behind on child support payments and is still looking for an already belated birthday present for the kid.
There's plenty of denial and hypocrisy behind the main character of After the Storm, a man who calls himself a writer but hasn't written a thing in a long time. He won a coveted book award for his first novel about 15 years ago. If there has been a book since then, we never learn, which means there probably hasn't been one. His day job is working as a private investigator, which is why he's so good at stalking his ex-wife and learning about that new boyfriend. He's a mess, but he has too much pride to admit it.
Ryōta (Hiroshi Abe) is a fascinating character. He's the wounded heart and stubborn personality of writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda's deliberate, observant film about a man who will not let go of the past, because he cannot see a future for himself or his life.
Opportunities abound for him, of course, but he refuses them. He's given the chance to write a manga, and his agent even offers that his name doesn't have to appear on it. Ryōta, proud man that he is, says he has to think about it.
On top of the opportunities, he has plenty of examples of people close to him who have moved past as much trouble, if not worse ones. His mother Yoshiko (Kirin Kiki) lost her husband, but she has started to attend a music appreciation group with other women of her age in the apartment complex where she has lived for a significant portion of her life. Plus, she—and the other women—are keeping tabs on their teacher, whom they all hope is a widower.
It's not much, but she's happy enough. She tells her son that she thought a butterfly that she happens upon one day was carrying the spirit of her late husband, and she's content enough now to tell the butterfly that she wants to stick around in this life a bit longer. Ryōta, of course, is a bit offended by this story, which says a lot about him, without him saying much.
His ex-wife Kyoko (Yōko Maki) obviously has moved on since their divorce. She's dating a successful man, and there's talk of marriage. Ryōta learns this from his son Shingo (Taiyō Yoshizawa), who's hesitant to say that he kind of likes his mom's new beau. Confronted with this information, Ryōta tries to convince his son to sabotage the relationship. Maybe the kid could just say he's uncomfortable with his mom dating someone else?
There is so much that Ryōta could do, but instead, he spends his days eating cheap noodles, gambling on bicycle races, buying lottery tickets, and engaging in some unethical behavior with the subject of one investigation, just so he can make some more money. He's looking for an easy fix for the life that he once had, unaware of the life he currently has and ignorant to the fact that he never really lived his previous life when he was in it.
There's a reason that he and Kyoko divorced. There's a reason that Shingo doesn't seem to upset about the idea of new father figure in his life. There's a reason that he doesn't write anymore, and there's a reason that the day job is starting to look like a career.
Koreeda doesn't have a single answer—or any answers, really—to his protagonist's problems and behavior. His film is simply an investigation of the man's life—or lack thereof. He doesn't try to turn the character into a noble figure or tragic hero, because he sees neither nobility nor tragedy in this man.
The film doesn't judge Ryōta, either, even as he engages in some unsavory actions—the stalking, the extortion, the useless gambling, the attempts to manipulate people whom he says he loves, the general stagnation of his life, of which he is the direct cause. He's a fairly unexceptional character, a man whose skeptical sister Chinatsu (Satomi Kobayashi) says is only noteworthy on account of his height, in a pretty mundane set of circumstances. That makes him instantly identifiable and sympathetic, in spite of his issues, and Abe's performance gives the impression of a man who would be desperate if he weren't so weary.
There's not much of a plot, obviously, although the events lead up to an extended climax in Yoshiko's apartment during one of the season's many typhoons. Ryōta has arranged a family reunion of sorts, hoping that the combination of old company, a familiar environment, and being trapped inside on account of the weather will flip something inside his ex-wife. He doesn't consider that he's the one who needs to do the flipping.
The film is at its most tender, honest, and insightful during this lengthy section, with characters finally forced to say what they really feel and believe. Koreeda doesn't push a lesson here, though. As with the rest of After the Storm, he's merely observing with knowledge and kindness.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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