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After the Storm

March 31, 2017
After the Storm

“How did my life turn out like this?” asks Shinoda Ryota (Abe Hiroshi) in Kore-eda Hirokazu’s latest family drama jewel, After the Storm. The consistent quality of his films is nothing short of breathtaking, this one arriving less than a year after Our Little Sister, and not a bit diminished for it.

As usual, Kore-eda’s subject is a family in crisis. And, as usual, the goal is less for the family to resolve the crisis than to learn to live with its new reality. This time we center on Ryota, a once-promising author who never managed to write his second novel, and instead frittered away his savings on gambling. Now he makes ends meet as a private detective, but wastes enough of it that he can never put together the alimony he owes his ex-wife, Shiraishi Kyoko (Maki Yōko), and so he never gets to see his son, Shingo (Yoshizawa Taiyô).

Ryota recognizes that his life has not turned out as he would have liked it, but the disappointment feeds back in on itself, driving him to gamble, which keeps him from his son, which renews his disappointment in a vicious cycle. It’s tempting to feel sorry for him; I’m sure Kyoko felt sorry for him at one point. But with no effort on his part to break out of the cycle, at some point he has to be left to his own devices.

The one place of shelter is his mother’s apartment. Shinoda Yoshiko (Kirin Kiki) loves her son unconditionally, the way only a mother can. She knows he has his problems, and that he probably comes around as much to hit her up for money as anything else. Or to find something of his late father’s to pawn, the fading memories of another man of questionable honesty, disappointed in his own life. His sister, Chinatsu (Kobayashi Satomi), sponges off of her too, but to fund her daughter’s figure skating lessons, which at least has a slightly more respectable air than a gambling problem.

But still she loves and forgives Ryota, as she loved and forgave his father. She wishes Kyoko would do the same and get back together with him, despite the fact that she has a new boyfriend already. And when a typhoon makes landfall in Japan, it seems the perfect opportunity to collect the broken family together and see if they will work things out while they’re trapped overnight in the apartment.

Yoshiko counsels her former daughter-in-law that men are not like women, who can find contentment in the present. Ryota, like her late husband, always looks to the future while regretting the past, turning his life into a noir story. Is it any wonder he fell into private detective work? One client after another, confronted with the evidence of their spouse’s infidelities, asks the same question as he does: “how did my life turn out like this?”

To focus on the past leads to disappointment over not becoming the person you wanted to be. Turning to focus on the future just fills your head with pipe dreams of how to yet become that person. But the hardest place to look is the present, at the self, to learn how to want to be the person you are.

In After the Storm, we find the purest distillation yet of Kore-eda’s entire body of work into this one essential goal: to stop looking to get what you want and start learning to want what you have. Once that storm of desire and frustration passes, there will be a calm place at the center.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.

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