all film critics will go to the great screening room in the sky. According to Hirokazu
Kore-eda, there really will be screenings for those who have shuffled off their
mortal coils. Whether or not it takes place among fluffy clouds hardly matters.
It is really about the process of taking stock of the lives the recently
deceased led and choosing the best part to hold onto for the rest of
whatever. Fittingly, Kore-eda’s modern
classic After Life (trailer here) screens on the one year anniversary of
Donald Richie’s death, as part of the Japan Society’s tribute to the highly
influential film scholar, who indeed championed Kore-eda at a crucial point of
you die during earthly winter, you will find it is still winter when you arrive
at After Life’s processing center,
which is a shame, because the cherry blossoms are lovely there during the
spring. Regardless, recently departed souls will only spend one week
there. Counselors Takashi Mochizuki and
Satoru Kawashima will help them chose the one memory they wish to retain and oversee
its production on film. At the end of the week, everyone will gather for the
screening of their group’s memories and then continue on their cosmic ways with
their sole designated memory preserved.
least that is how it is supposed to work. Some souls cannot or will not
choose. They are known as difficult
cases. Several are on the docket this
week. However, Mochizuki and his trainee Shiori Satonaka cannot judge them too
harshly. They too were unable to chose,
which is how they came to be employed at the celestial halfway house.
Presumably their earthly lives were somewhat disappointing, but Kore-eda will
only reveal so much—that is until a chance connection sneaks up on everyone.
spiritual element of After Life might
sound out of place in Kore-eda’s work, considering his reputation for gently mining
the terrain of family dysfunction and drama, in the tradition of Ozu. Yet, his
subsequent films, like Still Walking and
I Wish are very much about observing
those small but tellingly significant moments the souls in After Life struggle to remember. In a sense, it is like a summation
film that came early in his career.
course, there are no floating clouds in After
Life (well, actually there are, but they are merely special effects for one
of the memory films. Kore-eda deliberately keeps everything low-fi and low key
to emphasize the basic humanity of the characters and the memories that
mattered to them. For added realism, many of the sessions involve real people
relating their own memories. They are
often quite moving, especially those of an elderly lady, who still fondly remembers
dancing for her doting brother as young girl. Yet, perhaps the most powerful element
of the film is the sad and touching way the pseudo-romantic relationship
between Mochizuki and Satonaka never comes together.
his first big screen role, Arata (Iura) is quite impressive slowly establishing
Mochizuki’s angst and regrets. It is a role that gets progressively trickier with
each reveal. Likewise, Erika Oda is extraordinarily moving as Satonaka. The way
their performances evolve and deepen is also a tribute to Kore-eda’s firm but
nearly invisible directorial hand. Indeed, he shows a knack for dispensing
necessary information in a way that is unobtrusively organic.
There is no cheap melodrama in After Life. Kore-eda does not set out to play on viewers’
emotions. Yet, by treating his characters’ afterlives with such respect and
gravity, he lowers a mighty boom in third act.
Highly recommended, Kore-eda’s After
Life perfectly concludes the first part of the Japan Society’s tribute to
Donald Richie when it screens this Wednesday (2/19) in New York.
Labels: Donald Richie, Erika Oda, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan Society, Japanese Cinema