I was still feeling a little sick this morning, but I’m a glutton for punishment as well as a cinephile, so I willed myself out of bed, made my way over to IFC Center, and purchased a ticket for Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After the Storm.
I’d only seen one other Kore-eda film before today: After Life. While that earlier production explores themes of death and memory from the perspective of the recently departed, After the Storm instead examines the lives of those left behind, focusing in particular on an elderly widow, who struggles to cope with the lingering consequences of her late husband’s gambling addiction, and her divorced son, Ryota, who fears that he will follow in his father’s self-destructive footsteps.
As he abuses his position as a private investigator to blackmail clients, blows every paycheck at the local racetrack, and obsessively pries into his ex-wife’s love life, Ryota gradually emerges as one of the most fascinating and nuanced protagonists I’ve yet encountered in Japanese cinema, as beautifully contradictory as Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle. Sure, he frequently rummages through his mother’s closets and cabinets, searching for anything that looks valuable enough to pawn… but he spends every cent he earns on child support and expensive gifts for his young son, even as he languishes in relative squalor.
Ryota’s painful efforts to reunite his splintered family and come to terms with his father’s legacy could have easily resulted in a generic, cliched melodrama. Fortunately, like Yasujiro Ozu, Kore-eda understands that truly compelling conflict arises not from tearful confessions, but from rambling small talk whispered over tea while the rice bowls and chopsticks dry in the kitchen sink. The director’s innate ability to transform mundane moments into life-changing epiphanies made me realize that I’ve been ignoring his work for far too long—a mistake I intend to remedy very soon.
[Originally written March 19, 2017.]