In any given cinematic year, there’s an unpredictable, uneven batch of releases. It includes the usual disappointing and seemingly endless quagmire of superheroes from a culturally bankrupt Hollywood, piss-poor rom-coms with a feel-good factor (which make me feel sick) and the odd Richard Curtis shitfest. But it will also include hidden gems, quiet masterpieces and authentic movie experiences which gives my cinema going purpose and meaning. They enrich my cultural life.
In any given cinematic year, I look out for the films of Hirokazu Koreeda. Not many people will have heard of Koreeda but for over a decade he has made some of the most profound, moving and beautiful films from Japan (thankfully, Hollywood hasn’t dared to remake them). After the Storm is no exception.
The film stars Abe Hiroshi as Shinoda Ryota, a divorced writer down on his literary luck and working as a gumshoe at the tacky end of the market. Even his claim to be collecting material for his next novel rings hollow. He can’t afford the monthly childcare alimony, he gambles, he blackmails his clients with threats and photos from love hotels, he even tries to steal from his own mother. He is, in every way, a private and a public dick. “Why did my life turn out like this?” he asks.
You could see this story as his path to redemption. He quits gambling, writes another award-winning novel, makes his mother proud, reconciles with his wife and son, and lives happily ever after. Ha, only kidding. Koreeda wouldn’t be so crass as to use these easy narrative closures. If you want that then go to your local multiplex and choose any old crap starring Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz or Paul Rudd for your feel-good fix. Instead, Koreeda offers you a gentle, difficult and soul-searching journey through the human condition in which you will arrive at a truthful, meaningful and life enhancing ending. An epiphany of sorts that will stay with you long after the film has finished.
Abe Hiroshi as the emotionally wounded Ryota is mesmerising and infuriating in equal measures. His wife, Kyoto, is played by Maki Yoko with a hurt anger at Ryota’s inability to be a true father and to live with honour. But there is a wistful longing for the Ryota she once knew. Yoshizawa Taiyo is brilliant as Ryota’s silently suffering son, Shingo, who longs for the constant love and presence of his fool of a father with an air of hopeful disappointment. At the core of the film is a rare gem of a performance by Kiki Kilin as Yoshiko, his mother. She is wise, funny, conniving, melancholic and you can’t keep your eyes off her the whole time she is on the screen. It is a performance worthy of all the awards in the world.
The film ends with a storm-enforced family sleepover. Yoshiko admonishes Ryota for living in the past and the future, the fault of all men she profoundly declares. It is one of those all-too-rare cinematic moments where you are shown truth in a fictional construct. It is a sign of Koreeda’s genius. The film ends after the storm with some kind of familial reconciliation. The tensions have been temporally washed away and the air cleared, until the next typhoon. The protagonists go their own separate way with little resolved but sure in the knowledge that the emotional distance between them has also been cleansed.
It is by no means one of Koreeda’s best (check out his back catalogue) but is a fine addition to the oeuvre of one of Japan’s greatest auteurs. It is also 100 times better than anything you might ‘catch’ at your local plex.
For more details and screening times, visit the HOME website. Also showing across the country.