In a world of bombastic blockbusters with nary a moment of reflection, the quiet, introspective works of Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda are like a cinematic oasis. His latest, After The Storm is typically nuanced and subtle, and all the more rewarding for it.
Given that most of Koreeda’s films glide along at a lugubrious pace, Storm is relatively packed with incident. The story concerns Shinoda (Hiroshi Abe). Although he’s about to turn 50, he’s still a strapping, lean man, albeit with a droopy-shouldered posture and a defeated demeanour. He’s recently lost his father, he’s separated from his wife and only sees his 12-year old son once a month.
Once a promising writer, he’s now working as a private detective – his main clients being spouses that are being cheated on. As if that line of business weren’t seedy enough, he’s not averse to being disloyal to his clients himself and squeezing a bigger cut by bribing the adulterers with the carrot of withholding the incriminating evidence.
On the home front, Shinoda’s not regarded very highly by his ex-wife or his sister. His gambling addiction has seen him become somewhat of a financial leech among his family and he constantly fails to pay for child support. Even his good-natured mother has to admit he’s become a disappointment.
The only possible redemption in sight is to still be admired by his son.
There is literally a storm in the narrative, a typhoon that brings the main characters together, but of course it’s the metaphorical one of the father’s death (and to a lesser extent the divorce) that signifies to Shinoda that he needs to rebuild his life.
Some of the film’s most telling moments come when our flawed hero is actually out of the picture. The conversations between his mother and sister, and between his mother and ex-wife, tell us much about Shinoda‘s failings. Although he’s aware of his shortcomings, they become more poignant when we see them viewed by those around him.
It’s all about the small moments in a Koreeda film, and Storm is full of them. There are no great scenes of cathartic epiphanies, just small insights that build incrementally into a thoughtful portrait of a man who is trying to become a better person.
Abe does a great job of keeping us on Shinoda’s side, he has an amiable presence which counteracts the not so appealing acts of his character. Kiki Kilin is also wonderful company as Shinoda’s supportive but shrewd mother.
After the Storm ultimately doesn’t have the level of emotional impact of Koreeda’s best work, but in its own understated way, it’s never less than engaging.
After the Storm is currently in limited release
Richard Leathem @dickiegee