AAP Film Reviewer
CALGARY (Sept. 23, 2016) — Japanese auteur Koreeda Hirokazu graced the Toronto International Film Festival once again this year with his new feature, “After the Storm.”
Since 1995, with his multiple award-winning feature “Maborosi”, Koreeda has been a staple at TIFF, which has screened every one of his feature films. His recent works are still fresh in many viewers’ minds, “Still Walking” (2008), “Like Father, Like Son” (2013), and “Our Little Sister” (2015).
With all the avant garde and experimental, new waves of filmmaking bursting out at film festivals every year, Koreeda’s traditional style of storytelling offers a fine balance and an affirming voice. His films focus on the contemporary Japanese family, bringing out themes arising from the individual and extending to the universal. Humanity is what Koreeda is interested in, and his treatment of human foibles and failures is kind and forgiving. “After the Storm” is no exception.
Ryota (Abe Hiroshi) used to be an award-winning author. But for years he has not produced any more works. Divorced from his wife Kyoko (Maki Yoko) and sorely missing his 9 year-old son Shingo (Yoshizawa Taiyo), Ryota is at the bottom of his life. Months behind in his child support payments, he is laden with debt, entrapped by a gambling habit that’s hard to kick. It runs in the family it seems, for his late father had also been a gambler. With his work at a detective agency, Ryota would try all means to squeeze extra cash out of his clients, including deception and even extortion.
Koreeda’s dealing of Ryota is gentle and sympathetic. While he may look unkempt, the six-foot-two actor Abe Hiroshi has his charm and charisma. We see the nasty side of Ryota as he slips into his mother’s cramped unit in a housing project, looking for anything of value he could lay his hands on for pawning. A moment later, Koreeda lets us have a glimpse too of the other side of Ryota, that of a son to an ageing mother Yoshiko (Kiki Kilin). The mother-son portrait is witty and tactful, punctuated with heartwarming humour. It is a reunion of the two actors, also as mother and son, from Koreeda’s 2008 feature film “Still Walking.”
Mother knows best, even when your son doesn’t live with you any more. Deep in her heart, Yoshiko wishes to see her son reunite with her daughter-in-law Kyoko whom she is very fond of. She also treasures the affectionate bonding with grandson Shingo. If only they could get back together as a family, that would be a big relief and comfort, growing old can then be much bearable.
One evening, a passing storm keeps them together in Yoshiko’s home for a night. The rare reunion, though awkward, is probably unexpectedly gratifying for every one of them. Koreeda is, alas, a realist. Life is full of disappointments. However close they have come to bonding once again, the moment is short-lived. But the reminiscence and dynamics of the small family’s once intimate relationship regurgitates enough to spark off a renewal for Ryota. While they may continue on with their own separate ways, a new perspective has subtly wiggled in. Perhaps, there’s hope after all. The young, green grass covered with raindrops the morning after the storm is a refreshing metaphor.
The film was shot in the housing project where Koreeda had spent his youthful years. That was where his mother lived after his father had passed away. In the Q & A session, Koreeda admitted that certain incidents in the film did happen in the director’s own family. When writing the script though, once he has created his characters, Koreeda would let them run free and so they would develop themselves. Their stories just came out naturally.
Answering questions in Japanese with a translator beside him, Koreeda humbly thanked his Toronto audience, whom he had in mind when he made his films as TIFF had screened every one of his features. He noted that as we grew older, we had to deal with disappointments, as life often didn’t turn out to be what we’d like to see. “After the Storm” shows us that Koreeda has dealt with his characters’ life disappointments with a forbearing spirit. As for viewers of his films, Koreeda does not disappoint.