BFI London Film Festival: After the Storm (Umi yori mo Mada Fukaku)

After the Storm (Umi yori mo Mada Fukaku)
Directed by Kore-eda Hirokazu
Starring Abe Hiroshi, Maki Yoko and Yoshizawa Taiyo
LFF Screening October 6th, 13th, 2016

by Richard Hamer

Writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda is a master of the understated family drama. Charting a course through I Wish, Our Little Sister and the heartbreaking Like Father, Like Son – among many others – he’s established a style of filmmaking broad and contemporary in its themes, quiet and reflective in its delivery. After The Storm continues this tradition famously; a portrait of the regrets of age and the disappointments of life both wonderfully acted and artfully staged.

It follows Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), an award winning novelist of fifteen years prior, now clinging to financial solubility betting on bike races, buying lottery tickets and shaking down the clients at an unsuccessful private detective agency. He borrows continually from his aging mother and long-suffering sister. His wife has left him and he struggles to pay the child support for his young son. His life is not the life he dreamed it might be.

After The Storm moves slow and steady, at its best a series of gently paced conversations, meaning much while saying little, where great performances are left room to breathe. Hiroshi Abe is arresting in the lead role: A six foot two Japanese man mountain with the widest, most soulful of eyes; likeable no matter how unreliable he becomes, the weakness in his pride a struggle you want to see him overcome. Kirin Kiki is scene-stealing in the role of the mother, a source of much of the film’s wonderful comedy but also much of its dramatic truth: The disappointment she can’t help but feel for a son she loves, the loneliness yet almost inspirationally philosophical acceptance she has for the recent death of her husband of fifty years.

Much like the rest of Koreeda’s work, After The Storm is a movie to be savoured for these insights of character and feeling. In truth, it can’t be said to be the equal of much of his previous work: While the acting is never less than spot-on, the dialogue suffers here, especially towards its conclusion. Sheltering from the storm of the movie’s title, much of the conversation becomes overly confessional in nature, the story’s themes laid bare in exchanges that read a little too on-the-nose. It’s a rare and disappointing moment when you find yourself thinking “OK, I get it!” in one of Koreeda’s works, but it’s a late-game let down, and one that doesn’t impact the quality of what came before.

After The Storm is not Koreeda at his best, but it is another fine addition to the catalogue of one of Japan’s greatest filmmakers. It’s impossible to walk away without dwelling for a moment on your own failings and disappointments, and the film’s hopeful message that perhaps there’s always time to turn things around.




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