'After the Storm': Seattle International Film Festival movie review
The Japanese family drama "After the Storm" (screening at the 43rd Seattle International Film Festival starting May 19) is a subtle meditation that ponders the fleeting nature of life and the bonds of family.
In short: A well-past-his-prime novelist turned shady private investigator, Ryota has fallen on hard times. Estranged from his ex-wife and their son, Ryota gambles away his earnings and struggles to find enough money for child support.
The latest from director Hirokazu Kore-eda ("Like Father, Like Son" and "Our Little Sister") has but the bare minimum in the way of narrative structure. The film moves at its own pace, allowing quiet, incidental moments to breathe. The one obvious plot element - Ryota's need to somehow raise the money he needs for child support - is simply a tool to reveal his many other character flaws. Rather than shoehorning Ryota into some conventional clear story arc, "After the Storm" is a character study of a man who may not entirely be fit to be a parent. He sees how is own deceased father failed to provide for his elderly mother and how is his own ex-wife and child seems to be moving forward without Ryota.
Kore-eda establishes a natural familiarity between the characters - this is absolutely key to why "After the Storm" remains compelling character-driven story despite its lack of an apparent plot. The relaxed chemistry and casual interactions allow the characters to communicate deeply-rooted feelings, rather than just trading bits of information. Much of the film has a stage-like quality to the scenes, where it is not as important what characters discuss but rather how they discuss it. Emotional honesty is much more paramount to "After the Storm" than checking off a series of requisite plot points.
"This is not how it was supposed to turn out" is this film's refrain. Nearly every character opines some part of their past, while tacitly lamenting their present. An air of disappointment lingers over the characters, with most of them noting some disparity between how they hoped their lives would turn out versus the lives they are actually living. It is a relatable tragedy of dashed dreams, ambitions and hopes wherein the characters keep moving forward, living lives of muted disappointment.
Don't expect to this film to wrap up all the loose ends in a nice little bow. "After the Storm" is totally OK with leaving things a little messy - and, once again, this film is more concerned with emotional truth that following some narrative formula. That said, a little bit more structure would have been nice - especially given that so much time is spent establishing Ryota's many ... opportunities for personal growth. While he is a different man than he was in the beginning of the film, offering a little more in the way of closure to Ryota's story would have been nice.
Final verdict: Well written and sublimely directed, "After the Storm" is a deliberately-paced family drama. Some viewers may be deterred by the amount of patience required, while there's still plenty to appreciate in this thoughtful drama.
"After the Storm" screens at the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival. This Japanese drama is unrated and has a running time of 117 minutes.