AFTER THE STORM (Umi yori mada fukaku = Even deeper than the sea)
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Written by: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Cast: Hiroshi Abe, Yoko Maki, Kirin Kiki, Taiyo Yoshizawa, Kirin Kiki
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 3/10/17
Opens: March 17, 2017
You may recall that when you were in high school you heard outside speakers at assembly programs giving the pep talk “never give up your dream,” but such an anodyne notion is challenged in “After the Storm.” In this film, a number of characters remain unhappy because they are unwilling to give up their dreams, dreams that people in much of the world might have such as to write the great novel, to lead a major corporation, to win that case before Supreme Court, to discover a cure for cancer. Writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda, whose “After Life” (1998) asks what memory you would want to take with you after your death, manifests his keen interest in coming to grips with the important things in life. Embracing a gentle humor even throughout a melancholy tone, Hirokazu hones in on a fifty-year-old man who dreamt of being a novelist. He actually succeeded in his wish fifteen years back when he won prizes for his initial book, but then fails to use the momentum of transitory glory to be another John Grisham or Tom Clancy or, in the case of Japan another Banana Yoshimoto or Kenzaburu Oe.
The quiet, philosophic discussions are evoked by Ryota Shinoda (Hiroshi Abe), a 6’2” man whose marriage to pretty Kyoko Shiraishi (Yoko Maki), a pert, lovely woman, broke up because of the man’s gambling addiction and absentee fatherhood to Shingo Shiraishi (Taiyo Yoshizawa). As in most divorces, their breakup is not mutually desired; in fact Ryota, who insists that he has changed, tries to recapture the love the two once shared, using the occasion of a typhoon to talk while all are spending the night at the home of Ryota’s mother, Yoshiko Shinoda (Kirin Kiki).
During the course of the conversations, Yoshiko, now in her seventies, is not the traditional grandma portrayed in commercial movies as either batty or sit-com funny or wholly dedicated to her son and grandson. Instead she reveals dreams of her own, unrequited ones such as her many less than ecstatic years with her now departed husband. Nor is money simply a theme pushed into the background. Because Ryota owes child support and will be allowed to see his son more frequently than once a month only if he pays up, Ryota, who is working at a detective agency and pretending to research his next novel actively surveils others but also depends on the kindness of a pawnbroker, his sister and his mother.
It would be difficult for us in the audience to lose sympathy for such a deadbeat, but he comes across as a man who is adored by his young son though the boy knows his dad is a loser. We can see the love that Ryota’s mother has for him, accepting her own son’s failures just as she laments her own. But pretty Kyoko, though straining to avoid eye contact with her ex, looks as though she is holding back her emotions. She gives the impression that they were once a great couple but that life’s hardships have impacted on them.
Getting back to those high school assembly programs, one may wonder whether young people seeing this film will become disenchanted with their own dreams, noting how none of those inhabiting the story any kind of proof that their dreams are coincident with reality. This is a meditative work, one that should grow on you, about the typical family structure, not at all different from what we find here in the States. Yutaka Yamazaki lenses the story in a low-income area outside the Tokyo metropolis, the film concluding with Teresa Teng’s song which is also the original title of the movie, “even deeper than the sea.”
Unrated. 117 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
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