Directed by: Hirokazu Koreeda
Starring: Hiroshi Abe, Yôko Maki, Satomi Kobayashi
One of Albert Einstein’s most enduring quotes involves insanity and repeating the same thing while expecting different results. Just where that leaves Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda is an interesting question because he’s ploughed the same furrows of subtle family drama his whole career, achieving an enviable mix of emotional consistency and subtle variation. In Koreeda’s work, the differences come in small but certainly not insignificant ways, his genius displayed in an ability to find something new from the same themes.
After the Storm does all this, dragging forward a washed out and useless father trying to connect with his son and make sense of a life sinking into abject failure. Hiroshi Abe is Ryota, a briefly successful author with no money and crippling gambling problems. He now works as a private investigator, ostensibly to gather material for a book, but if that was the original motivation behind taking the job, it’s long since ceased to play any part.
He’s basically the epitome of a deadbeat dad: squandering child support at the racing track, stalking his ex Kyoko (Yōko Mari) to check out her new boyfriend, and shaking down everyone from spurned lovers to high school kids for an extra yen or two. But this is Koreeda, and a revelation of sorts will occur, all achieved without trite redemption.His films are especially powerful because they focus on the process, not the end result. By connecting again with his mother (Kirin Kiki) and his son (Taiyô Yoshizawa) in a series of naturalistic interactions, he can come to see a light. Whether he reaches it is not Koreeda’s problem. Discovery is the key.
As ever, After the Storm features a series of strong performances from the core players, especially Kiki’s mother. Her mix of hard gained knowledge and childish excitement at new discoveries as she branches out into unexplored interests following the death of her husband makes her the real emotional rock the story stands on. Abe is suitably disheveled in the lead role, and Maki also turns what seems an initially underwritten part into something special when her character is opened up near the end.
Curiously for Koreeda, he makes a few mistakes with the supporting cast. Ryota’s seedy boss, his unbelievably supportive colleague and friend, and Kyoko’s boorish new lover all fail to escape stereotypes. There are also a few moments of overly heavy signposting involving copies of Ryota’s novel, and a play area, while the storm of the title is an unnecessarily dramatic tool to trap him together with his family just long enough to allow the revelation to come.
This keeps After the Storm short of Koreeda’s best work, but it’s still high-quality drama, his eye for family relations and personal demons as undiminished as ever. For every fumbled sign, there are dozens of others delivered with the perfect degree of nuance. Ryota offering to splash out on new shoes for his son before scuffing them up secretly to get a discount, or looking on embarrassed as his mother makes an ill-fated attempt to bring him back together with Kyoko linger far beyond the odd misstep.
After the Storm is in cinemas 2 June