AFTER THE STORM (UMI YORI MO MADA FUKAKU?) (海よりもまだ深) (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2016)
IFC Center, 323 Sixth Ave. at Third St., 212-924-7771
Lincoln Plaza Cinema, 1886 Broadway between 62nd & 63rd Sts., 212-757-2280
Opens Friday, March 17
“This isn’t how it was supposed to turn out,” Ryota Shinoda (Hiroshi Abe) says in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest masterful family drama and most personal yet, After the Storm. With the twenty-third typhoon of the year on its way, struggling writer Ryota decides to visit his mother, Yoshiko (Kilin Kiki), at the Asahigaoka Housing Complex in Kiyose, Tokyo (where Kore-eda lived for nearly twenty years, until he was twenty-eight). The broke Ryota is hoping to find some hidden treasures left behind by his father, who has recently passed away, to get him out of the financial hole he has dug for himself through a gambling addiction. His ex-wife, Kyoko (Yoko Maki), is threatening to take away his visitation rights with their young son, Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa), unless Ryota pays his back child support. To make some quick cash, Ryota has taken a job with a detective agency, where he is not exactly ethical; he claims he took the job as research for his next novel, but he even spies on Kyoko, who has a new boyfriend. As the storm approaches, the characters try to reconnect, and disconnect, forced to face what their lives have become. Written, directed, and edited by Kore-eda, After the Storm is a gentle, eloquent tale, where the smallest of gestures and details are packed with emotional resonance, from Yoshiko attending a class on Beethoven to Ryota purposely scuffing cleats he is buying for Shingo in order to get a discount, from Ryota and Yoshiko trying to eat frozen-solid ices to Ryota finding out something new about his father from a local pawnbroker (Isao Hashizume).
Ryota is stuck in a rut of his own making, and he doesn’t know how to get out of it, or at least is unwilling to take certain risks despite his need to gamble (and lose). He wants only the best for his son, but Shingo is becoming more and more like him; playing baseball, the boy keeps his bat on his shoulder, striking out looking, trying to work out a walk instead of taking action and swinging away. None of the main adult characters, including Ryota, Kyoko, Yoshiko, and Ryota’s sister, Chinatsu (Satomi Kabayashi), are particularly happy and satisfied with how their lives turned out. The film is sharply photographed by Yutaka Yamazaki and features a soundtrack by singer-songwriter Hanaregumi that just manages to avoid being treacly. Kore-eda, who has made several documentaries as well as such poignant dramas as Our Little Sister, Still Walking, and Like Father, Like Son, fills After the Storm with a tender believability and beautifully drawn, realistic characters portrayed by an outstanding cast of familiar faces who have worked with him before. In his fourth Kore-eda film, the ruggedly handsome and tall Abe (Thermae Romae, Snow on the Blades) gives a profound performance as Ryota, a man who can’t avoid failure even though he knows better. Kore-eda’s visual storytelling style is often compared to Yasujirō Ozu’s, but he has said that After the Storm is more like a film by Mikio Naruse, tinged with sadness and melancholy. In his director’s notes for After the Storm, he also emphasizes how personal the film is to him, explaining, “Incorporating the changes that occurred within me after my mother and father died, it’s the film that is most colored by what I am. After I die, if I’m taken in front of God or the Judge of the Afterlife and asked, ‘What did you do down on Earth?’ I think I would first show them After the Storm.” That’s not such a bad choice.