By Tara Judah
I used to think the notion of being moved to tears by beauty was a Kantian experience reserved for the wonders of the natural world. But the most joyous discovery in my life has been to learn that I was wrong. To be moved to tears by beauty in art, just as one can be moved by the world it represents, is magnificent and, with After the Storm, Hirokazu Kore-eda has created yet another world in which I have experienced such sublime emotions.
From sentiment to scenario and across his characters, places, imagery and impressions, Kore-eda’s films have a melancholic tonality that represents the aching of the human soul.
Familiar themes are revisited here including; broken families, the problem of the patriarch, strained relationships between fathers and sons, coming to terms with grief, as well as the unutterable bond that is created and strengthened through taking time to share a meal together.
Here, Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) returns home after a patriarchal death in the family, hoping to find the strength to take up his own role within the flimsy structure of gendered society. The territory is well trodden as Abe played another son trying to become a symbol of the patriarch after a familial death, also named Ryota, in Kore-eda’s 2008 film, Still Walking.
Divorced, living in a tiny, unkempt apartment and spending more of his private detective income at the race track than on child support, Ryota is struggling to get a handle on life. Desperate for money but, unwittingly, even more desperate for the nourishment of his soul, Ryota must face the incoming typhoon with a strong heart, filled with what he does not have: honesty and resilience. It is not enough to blame “the times, this petty age we live in” for his shortcomings, we are told. Kore-eda wants us all – in the audience as much as his characters onscreen – to reflect upon the responsibilities we assume for both the beauty and harm we enact upon each other.
The film, as with his entire body of work, is peppered with succinct and telling character revelations that knowingly provide us with Kore-eda’s own voice, as a plea to the entirety of human kind; Yoshiko (Kirin Kiki), Ryota’s mother (for the second time, after Still Walking), is the spirited and surviving matriarch, and her comments are Kore-eda’s best, “A stew needs time for the flavours to sink in: so do people, ” and “You can’t find happiness until you’ve let go of something.” Thankfully, Kore-eda’s dialogue, no matter how blatantly or wilfully prophetic, is always self-aware, “I said something deep, didn’t I?” Yoshiko says and laughs, after pondering why she has never “loved someone deeper than the sea.”
But it is not the dialogue that makes the film so moving. Rather, it is that he finds subtle and poetic ways to show us the unfathomable hurt and incomprehensible love humans are capable of. We wound as well as we heal and no matter how painful the melancholy in his films can be, Kore-eda is a filmmaker in whose hands I would happily entrust my emotions every time. Through careful mid-shots and select close-ups, soft but not slow pacing and honest framing that allows the mise-en-scène to speak up without passing judgement; Kore-eda’s exploration of humanity is gentle even if the human behaviour is sometimes unkind.
After the Storm is a beautiful film that has brought tearstains from my soul to the surface. And, as the fictional typhoon moved on, and the credits rolled, I smiled. After the film, I know my tears will dry, outside the auditorium, in the cool breeze of the very real world.
Out of competition
Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
Produced by Kaoru Matsuzaki, Akihiko Yose, Hijiri Taguchi
Screenplay by Hirokazu Kore-eda
Starring: Hiroshi Abe, Kirin Kiki, Y?ko Maki
Music by Hanaregumi
Cinematography: Yutaka Yamasaki
Edited by Hirokazu Kore-eda
Production company: AOI Pro. Inc.