I can think of worse ways to spend a few days than to watch all of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s films.
The five I’ve seen have been about the touching connections that remain when parents and children are pulled apart.
Kore-eda has a great eye for what it’s like to be a child, but in After the Storm he focuses on a 50-year old man named Ryota (Hiroshi Abe). And yet, in many ways Ryota is still a child.
Strangers seem to like him — he’s tall and he’s famous — his first novel made a splash all those years ago — but his family know he’s not much of a fifty-year-old man. Separated from his wife, he earns a little money working as a private detective — and not the interesting, movie kind, but the kind that facilitates divorce and knows how to cheat a client out of another day’s wages. He tries to enhance his income through lottery tickets and betting on the races.
Ryota feels his five decades zipping by, and he is in a rush to reunite with his ex and reconnect with his son. So he starts the weekend by visiting his mother and his sister. They both know he’s there to ask for money.
A typhoon is predicted, which gives everyone an excuse to change the conversation.
At the heart of the story is the question of whether change is possible as we age.
Ryota’s mother (played by Kirin Kiki) is a sharp-witted font of wisdom. She says that the curry is better after a long time, when the flavor has had the chance so sink in — implying it takes a long time to really get to know someone. Maybe that’s why after 50 years, when her husband died, she threw away his stuff. They had grown apart, and what’s the practical use of keeping it all? It’s just that much more stuff to be stolen or ... mooched.
She compares her son to her ornamental tangerine tree — it doesn’t bear fruit but she waters it just the same. Ryota defensively says that “great talents bloom late.”
The film is set up in such a way that you hope Ryota can make amends and be ready to start again after the storm. But he has a long way to go, and he seems like he’s always making mistakes as he looks for shortcuts to success. You might call him a tragic figure, if only he were a little more likeable.
After the Storm is a movie without a villain, but there’s plenty of conflict in Ryota’s character. Can he continue to deserve the good parts of his life that once came so easy?
It may not be the most interesting question Kore-eda has ever posed in a film. But it makes a nice addition to a lovely and gentle body of work about parents and children.