the title of hirokazu kore-eda’s new film is ironic. the television weather forecast says a typhoon is imminent, and the characters are subtly influenced by its inexorable approach. Situations escalate and complicate. the drama actually takes place before the storm, during the storm, or perhaps instead of the storm. the rest period that the title seems to evoke occurs very late, if at all. however, there is no climactic storm in action.
after the storm is a family drama, a 21st century variation on the classic Japanese style for which this filmmaker is now an international standard-bearer. the director has said that he draws inspiration from mikio naruse, rather than yasujirō ozu, although he is not satisfied with either comparison. it’s a story of bittersweet regrets and acceptance of life’s disappointments and impossibilities, colored with gentle humor and observation; food and family meals are very important. The film reaffirms the themes of Kore-eda’s previous films, such as wishing and still walking, although the idea of a gloomy middle-aged man and his frustrated literary career actually made me think of the pessimistic middle-aged comedy of alexanderpayne. however, after the storm comes the most extraordinary subplot, which could otherwise make for a brutally hard noir thriller.
That’s because the hero is, of all things, a private detective addicted to gambling and not averse to blackmailing a cheating spouse he’s spying on, while also extorting money from what used to be called the co – sued for a settlement. he always has a gentle and kind demeanor and his ghastly activities are accompanied by melancholy and mournful music, for everyone, as if a pleasant and sad man were taking a sensitive walk in the shade of cherry blossoms. On paper, though, this guy gets just as much of a bad rap as the sweaty scumbag Emmet Walsh he plays in the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple.
He is Shinoda (Hiroshi Abe), who has returned home to be with his elderly mother because his father, a man whose reckless and wasteful habits Shinoda has clearly inherited, has just died. he is divorced from kyōko (yōko maki) and is struggling to pay child support for her and her young son. She also has a testy and difficult relationship with her sister (Satomi Kobayashi), a housewife devoted to her young daughter’s interest in figure skating, and wary of her spendthrift brother and his predatory plans on their indulgent mother, a charming performance by kirin kiki.
Poor Shinoda still carries a torch for his ex-wife and uses his skills to spy on her and her new partner. he denies the way his writing ambitions are developing. Some time ago he successfully debuted with a novel called The Empty Table, a title full of autobiographical sadness. It may have been something of a crime thriller, though it is unclear if Shinoda based the details on his previous work as a private detective, or if he took that job as an investigator. but the terrible truth is that his literary career is stagnant and that he has no choice but to continue being a private detective because that is the only thing that brings him the little money he has. that grimy world, at first as fascinating as something to transform and exalt in literature, is the professional life into which he has sunk. and the death of his father brings his life’s journey into sharper focus.
In the hands of another filmmaker, this situation could be the focus of a dizzying black comedy. Curiously, Kore-eda simply glosses over events that in a noir would see Shinoda mistreated or killed. Instead, it makes them an incidental, if absurd, part of a larger story: Shinoda’s sad longing for his ex-wife and his child. Eventually, the storm means that the three of them’s awkward visit to her mother turns into a one-night stand, much to her delight, and emotions bubble to the surface.
These emotions are, however, largely those of shinoda’s mother, who accepts the approach of death with a mixture of resignation, fear and bewilderment, and without the placid wisdom stereotypically of an older person. listening to the muddy lyrics of a pop song on the radio, she calmly says, “i’ve never loved anyone deeper than the sea…” there is so much intelligence and finesse in kore-eda’s filmmaking, so much ingenuity and discreet humanity.