AFTER THE STORM/ UMI YORI MO MADA FUKAKU
Japan, 2016, 117 minutes, Colour.
Hiroshi Abe, Yoko Maki.
Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda.
This is a quietly serious and humane film that tells a Japanese story which has universal interest and appeal.
Over a number of years, the director, Hirokazu Koreeda, has made several films which have been very moving indeed, including Nobody Knows, Like Father Like Son, Our Little Sister. They are well worth seeing, as is this film, After the Storm.
The director’s themes are from ordinary Japanese life, perhaps best described as middle-class or lower middle class. He is interested in families, in marriage, separation and divorce. He is also interested in the relationship between the generations. And, particularly, in the three films mentioned as with this one, parenting, often between fathers and sons.
The father in this film, Ryoto, has been a successful novelist, winning an award but not progressing in his career. He has married but has not been successful in relating well to his wife whom he loves or being a strong presence in the life of his son. At this stage of his life, he is working as a private detective (with a very enthusiastic young associate). The key problem is that he has a gambling problem, sometimes winning at the velodrome (as we see him here), playing machines, buying lottery tickets, sponging on his young friend – and even deceiving some of his clients to get more money from them.
The other central character in this film is his mother. A widow after 50 years of marriage, never having quite had the life she might have imagined, living in the same apartment for 40 years with very mixed memories of her husband, she has both a son and a daughter. Whenever these two meet, they clash. But Ryoto likes to visit his mother, always in search of some money or something that he might pawn (something which his father did a great deal), remembering his abilities as a novelist but unable to make any progress.
His mother is devoted to her children though she sees them fairly objectively. She fusses over them, provides them with meals, enjoys talking with them, walking with them.
Japan has many typhoons and, here, the year has had a record number of them. As the weather changes, and the father takes his son out for the day, lavishing on him money that he does not have (though damaging a pair of cleats so that he can ask for a discount, and also pretending not to be hungry as he takes his son for a burger, and buying him expensive lottery tickets), he decides to take his son to see his grandmother, tells him stories about his own relationship with his father. He invites his ex-wife, who now has someone else in her life who serves as a father-figure for the boy, to come to his mother’s to collect him.
With the oncoming typhoon and the rain, the family stay the night, a joy for the grandmother, an opportunity for some serious sequences where husband and ex-wife reflect on their lives, with the ex-wife talking with her mother-in-law for whim she has great respect, with the father talking to his son.
With the sun coming out the next day - and the novelist does get a boost from finding one of his father’s more valuable possessions - he walks off into his day without any assurance that life will necessarily be any better – but, as the title suggests, after the storm the sun comes out.
1. A contemporary Japanese story? Family, the generations, marriage, divorce, parenting? Universal appeal?
2. The city settings, the Tokyo suburb, the streets, apartments, parks, workplaces, the velodrome, shops, restaurants? The typhoon? The musical score?
3. The title, Japanese typhoons, the impact, the effect, the fear, shelter, hiding in the toy house in the park, the search for lottery tickets, the sun coming out afterwards? The symbolism?
4. Introduction, the grandmother, Ryoto’s sister, at home, the talk between mother and daughter, establishing the characters, the mother as a widow, her memories of her husband, 50 years, living in the house for 40 years? The talk about Ryoto?
5. Ryoto, his age, experience, relationship with his mother, the bond, the harsh memories of his father, the meetings with his sister and their clashes? Coming to the apartment, the search for the scroll, prepared to steal from his mother? The eating the frozen desert, their talking? The past with his novels, 15 years since the award? His work as a private detective, the young companion? Their being involved in fraud with their clients? The woman betraying her husband at the love hotel? Doctoring the photos for a price? The boss, employing, his reactions? Ryoto and his gambling, the velodrome, his companion leading him money, playing the machines? Borrowing, the lottery tickets, not having enough money to pay the gas bill, his wife’s alimony? Spying on his son, the baseball, intending to buy him the glove, watching him play, watching his ex-wife and the companion?
6. The portrait of the grandmother, her life, the 50 years, her dreams, memories of her husband in the dreams, the incense? The coping and the house, the children’s visits, the importance of food and cooking, preparing for the typhoon? The family coming, their staying the night, the arrangements, sleeping, the child between the parents, the baths? Playing the card games? Her hopes, talking with the son, with her daughter-in-law, with the boy? Finally waving goodbye?
7. The ex-wife, the marriage and love, the separation, real estate work, her husband unable to be a good parent? Love for her son? The new partner? Her job, wanting the alimony, her hard stances? Coming to the house, staying the night, the bond with her mother-in-law? The rain, talking? Her softening a little – but not prepared to take her husband back?
8. The sister, hard, the breaking of the plateglass, her husband fixing it?
9. Ryoto’s day with his son, the son’s age, the experience of the separation, the talking, his telling stories of the past? Playing baseball, his father taking him to buy the cleats? The meal – and his father pretending not to be hungry? His father lavishing money on him, the lottery tickets? Going to his grandmother, the talk, the card game, the bath, sleeping? Father and son? Going out on the night, the shelter in the rain, searching for lottery tickets? His mother helping in the search?
10. The portrait of the 21st century ordinary Japanese family? Images of Japanese life? The traditions, the selling of the case, the signature, calligraphy? The modern Western style?
11. The appeal of the story, the characters? The universal appeal?