Hirokazu Kore-eda’s films have often been centred on family, but by the Director’s own admission, After the Storm may be his most personal yet, drawing details from much of his own life.
You can scour dozens of festival interviews and audience Q&As to discover these little insights – we know that the charming matriarch is based on the warmth and humour of his own mother and that he too lived with the anxiety of becoming like his absent father. Not only that, but Kore-eda went so far as to shoot the film in the very housing complex where he grew up.
While Kore-eda isn’t a private detective struggling to reconnect with his son and ex-wife like the film’s protagonist, you can’t help but sense that Kore-eda is using the story to navigate his own feelings around maturity. He doesn’t try to hide it either, and some might say he even interrogates himself on this tactic. At one point in the film, Ryota’s sister rebukes him for writing about them in his novel, “Our family memories aren’t your private property”. Is it fair for me to use my public craft to find catharsis? Is it selfish?
Why a film so personal has come to him after so many years of work is as good a question as any, but it’s a question that gets to the heart of what After the Storm is trying to say: good things take time.
You’ll find this theme peppered throughout the film, often in disguise. Grandma slow cooks her stew and relishes in her frozen ice creams which take long to prepare and even longer to thaw. Ryota’s second novel gestates in little snippets on post-it notes over his desk. The elders in the housing complex pore over a Beethoven opus completed only a year before his death. And the young Shingo somberly awaits a slow-coming but promising growth sprout so her can become as tall as his father. In Kore-eda’s world, everything that steeps becomes more flavourful, including the family stuck in a cramped apartment, awaiting the passing of a storm.
Even with the optimistic nature of all these outcomes, the characters still find themselves talking over their inevitable frustration with things that take long to bloom. While they never gather as a full unit, Kore-eda has the characters discuss this in small duets, each engaging in pairs as they separately come to a collective boil.
These two person conversations find the characters pivoting between their multiple roles every time they find themselves alone in a room with someone new. A conversation between the grandmother and her son leads to a moment between a boy and his father; ex-husband and ex-wife discuss their past, circling back to an old woman and her daughter-in-law. Each, a conversation about the difficulty of saying goodbye to the person they just were so that they can become who they want to be.
Ryota is held back by the sad truth that he may have in fact inherited the worst of his father, between the gambling debts and terse relationship with his son, brining us to the crux of the film – learning to have the wisdom to let go. Letting go of being a novelist and focusing on the steady job, letting go dreams of professional baseball for public service, or even the hope of your son and daughter-in-law getting back together. “This isn’t how it was supposed to turn out”, we hear the characters say on more than one occasion. But Ryota discovers that becoming your father may not be the worst thing in the world if it means memories of running raucous in a park during thunderous rain.
To sign your own name in your father’s ink becomes the ultimate act of
After the Storm opens in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on March 17th and continues until March 23rd. Tickets available here.
By Ammar Keshodia, Reel Asian Programming Committee Member
Ammar is a British-born Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker. Ammar is also an alumni of Reel Asian’s Unsung Voices, a video production program that provides young Asian Canadians with a keen interest in film the necessary skills to express themselves as artists, learn from professionals in the field, and to produce a distinctly Asian Canadian story.