Review: After the Storm

Melbourne International Film Festival 2016 - After the Storm

After the Storm posterThe type of layered and beautiful character study we’ve come to expect from the master Hirokazu Kore-eda.

For all the comparisons Hirokazu Kore-eda gets to classic Japanese filmmakers like Yasujiro Ozu, or even Mikio Naruse, his several decades of keen observations have earned him a unique place in the canon. AFTER THE STORM (海よりもまだ深く) thematically follows Kore-eda’s impressive body of work, demonstrating that when it comes to exploring the modern Japanese family, it is his name that future generations of filmmakers should hope to be compared to.

Featuring a familiar cast of faces, Kore-eda’s script settles on Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), a once prize-winning novelist who has gambled away his money and now ekes out a living as a private detective. His estranged wife Kyoko (Yōko Maki) is ready to move on, but Ryota sees their young son Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa) as a bond that will keep them connected, even if he is unable to pay child support. Yet when even his elderly mother Yoshiko (Kirin Kiki) has managed to move past the death of her husband, Ryota’s state of arrested development looks increasingly desperate.

Set against the backdrop of the titular storm, a fierce typhoon that forces the group to spend the evening together, the perpetually looming force of nature promises to wash away the past in one form or another. Kore-eda’s slow-building film has a laser focus on character, and despite the inevitability of their situation, pleasingly builds loads of humour into the sometimes melancholic acceptance of fate. Much of this comes initially from the wonderful Kirin Kiki, reunited with her Still Walking “son” and gleefully overplaying her own fragility for the benefit of her family. Yet the towering Abe, here deliberately looking awkward in his own tall frame, provides plenty of hangdog humour with his own deadbeat persona. Shaking down high-school boys and clients alike, his sister (Satomi Kobayashi) and boss (the always hilarious Lily Franky) afford him no sympathies.

Kore-eda’s Like Father, Like Son made a compelling case about the unavoidability of hereditary traits, and AFTER THE STORM continues the nature versus nurture theme, repeatedly showing how Ryota’s failings as a father stem from his own attempts to escape from the cycle his late father left him. With intimate Yutaka Yamasaki photography of the poorer Tokyo suburb of Kiyose, and lightened by an often upbeat summery soundtrack by Hanaregumi, Kore-eda presents an understated but no-less powerful film that is easily the equal of his other masterpieces.

AFTER THE STORM is playing at the Melbourne International Film Festival 28 July – 14 August 2016.

2016 | Japan | DIR: Hirokazu Kore-eda | WRITER: Hirokazu Kore-eda | CAST: Hiroshi Abe, Kirin Kiki, Yoko Maki, Taiyo Yoshizawa | RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes | DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto Distribution (AUS) | RATING: ★★★★½