“Kore-eda once again gently touches upon the fundamental importance of reminiscing the past and treasuring small moments of happiness, while underlining in a subtle but precise way the complexity of relationships.”
If there is one Japanese director that doesn’t need an introduction, it is Hirokazu Kore-eda. Often compared to the grand-master Yasujiro Ozu, Kore-eda nevertheless sees his work as being closer to the dramas Mikio Naruse painted and the work of Ken Loach. And while Kore-eda’s work is diverse in nature, the underlying question/problem the auteur works through ever concerns the complexity of family and relationships as such.
It might not be a coincidence that Kore-eda, since he became father, besides his usual exploration what a family can be, started to investigate what it means to be a father. Kore-eda explored the question of the father for the first time in Like Father, Like Son (2013) and After the storm (2016) should be seen as Kore-eda’s second exploration in this unsolvable question.
Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), a middle-aged private detective dwelling on his past glory as a prize-winning author, has been struggling with a gambling-addiction for a while now. In need for money, he often returns to his hometown to visit his grandmother Yoshiko Shinoda (Kirin Kiki), so he can find stuff of his recently deceased father to sell.
Besides needing money to pay for his gambling, he also needs money to pay his alimony to his ex-wife Kyoko Shiraishi (Yoko Maki) and his son, Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa), so he can keep meeting his son monthly. One day, on such occasion, Ryota takes shingo to his beloved grandmother. When Kyoko comes to pick him up, Yoshiko urges them to stay, as the typhoon is already raging wildly. Kyoko, Shingo, Ryota and Yoshiko spend the night together.
After the Storm‘s narrative concerns the impossibility of upholding the symbolic father-position as such. While many interactions between Ryota and his son are experienced as genuine interactions between father and son, his son’s perceptiveness of his father’s problematic relation with money debunks Ryota as being a father on the symbolic level. Instead Ryota is revealed as ‘a’ father, as a ‘real’ person who struggles with a gambling problem (Narra-note 1). In this respect, the most important aspect the After the Storm underlines is that there should always be a place kept open – by the mother – for the subject, in this case Ryota, to realize himself as a father with respect to his son.
On another level, the narrative concerns the uneasiness (for Ryota) that erupts from the gap between Ryota’s reality as a subject and the ideal image he wants to attain. The “great talents bloom late” that Ryota identifies himself with uncovers this gap sensibly, enabling the spectator to understand Ryota’s rather cynical being as born out of this very gap. While Ryota’s speech communicates his desire to change, his comportment underlines that, when all is said and done, he is yet unable to escape the ‘pleasure’ he derives from his current societal position. But as much as the narrative is about living your life as to become who you want to be, it also concerns the importance and difficulty of accepting that what cannot be.
While moving shots are present, the cinematography, as expected from Kore-eda, is a rather fixed affair, sketching the narrative with concatenation of fixed shots that are often lengthy – a minor tremble can nevertheless be noted in each shot. This gives the spectator the time to breath in the narrative space and to focus on the characters, their speech and conversations, and their corporal behaviour. The framed comportment, as in most Kore-eda’s narratives, often concerns household chores – folding blankets, cooking food, eating dinner …, etc., or interactions that can be expected in a given daily social situation (Narra-note 2). The conversations, often supplementing the above-mentioned interactions, generally touch upon daily matters, family memories or, in Ryota’s case, money matters, while exploring and unfolding subtly the complex nature of family relationships (Narra-note 3).
The exploration of this familial complexity in After the Storm is brought to the fore through a careful character study of Ryota and his interactions with his mother, his son, his sister, his colleagues, … etc., (Narra-note 4). Due to the natural performances of each actor and especially from Hiroshi Abe and the fabulous Kirin Kiki, After the Storm is able to capitalize on its focus on daily scenes and paint extremely believable interactions and relationships that feel spontaneous or, given the history between certain characters, spontaneously uneasy. The colour-palette that characterize the narrative space is slightly muted, counteracting the idea that grand happiness is easy attainable. This doesn’t mean that After the Storm is a depressing affair, but a narrative that sensibly reveals, that despite the hardships in life, a charming lightness is to be found in the small moments of happiness we create together.
After the Storm is, in short, an exquisite and charming narrative. With his measured and geometrically simple cinematography, a cinematography focused on documenting the casual conversations and daily interactions of ordinary people, Kore-eda once again gently touches upon the fundamental importance of reminiscing the past and treasuring small moments of happiness, while underlining in a subtle but precise way the complexity of relationships and the importance to accept the inevitable disappointments in life.
Narra-note 1: The narrative never gives a clear idea of what a ‘bad’ father or a ‘good’ father might be. One should understand the lack of such idea in the narrative as the impossibility to define “The Good Father”. But the fact that the signifier of ‘good father’ is vocalized in the narrative, nevertheless means there is a vague image of such non-existing father present.
Narra-note 2: In this narrative, Ryota’s gambling and his interactions with clients and colleagues of the private detective office are also framed. These scenes aim to further elaborate the general position of Ryota in society and his problematic relationship with money.
Narra-note 3: Conversations ore often imaginary in nature, creating images of how certain character experiences others, while defining their own image in the same movement. These conversations nevertheless reveal the various symbolic positions or spaces (e.g. mother, daughter, father…, etc.).
Not unimportant, most of the time these conversations have no speech present that fundamentally alters one’s subjective position.
Narra-note 4: Other relationships that are touched upon are relationships between mother and son, brother and sister, father and son, and ex-wife and ex-husband.