Whilst any recollection of 2017’s Academy Awards will forever be marred by an unprecedented blunder, its selection of nominees for Best Picture remain a diverse array of emotionally charged and technically accomplished films. Amidst the glitz of La La Land, or the deafening horror within Hacksaw Ridge, one film firmly stood its ground: Manchester By The Sea. A relatively quiet, yet emotionally raw depiction, of unparalleled grief (caused by a tragic accident). It’s authentic and emotional power alone, propelled the film’s narrative ahead. Similarly, Palme d’Or winner Hirokazu Koreeda returns with After The Storm, possessing a narrative which smartly subverts the ‘dysfunctional family’ archetype, whilst portraying life in all of its wonderful mundanity. Tragedy has struck a family, but with Koreeda, it isn’t generated by an unlikely event depicted within Kenneth Lonergan’s Academy Award winner. It is a painfully authentic depiction of family life – tranquillity abruptly concluded.
In the fifteen years that have passed since novelist Ryota Shinoda (Hiroshi Abe) published an award-winning debut, life has dealt him a poor hand indeed. In addition to struggling with a sophomore slump, Ryota’s marriage has tragically dissolved (and with it, a precious relationship with his son, Shingo), his father has died and in order to pay exceedingly expensive child support bills, he is forced to work as an underpaid private detective. Unsatisfied with the course of his life, Ryota attempts to rekindle his fractured relationships, and become a reliable father once more. And upon a visit to his mother’s home, Ryota is given his chance, when the dysfunctional family find themselves trapped, upon the breakout of a dangerous storm.
Considering After The Storm’s tent-pole (UK) release date, one might expect some bang for your buck. Perhaps a sequel to 2014’s Into The Storm? Thank heavens, no. In fact, what surprised me most about Hirokazu Koreeda’s continuation of the Japanese realist film, is its silence. Tragedy may have struck the life of our protagonist and his family, but Koreeda’s characters deal with their pain through an occasional glance, or the odd sentence which is quietly devastating. We aren’t treated to another sequence in which “a stoic man loses his s**t behind the wheel of his car”. Instead, Koreeda indulges within protracted, gentle scenes, allowing the anguish felt by many of his characters to be released slowly, over the course of the film’s near two hour running time. The film may drag at times, yet without this deliberate running time, the ultimate end point for the characters would be rendered meaningless for audiences, due to a lack of essential character development.
And despite the archetypes that may apply to them, Koreeda’s rich characters are multi-layered, complex human beings. Each possesses their own unique Achilles heel. Some are unable to admit painful truths, or are crushed by the weight of life’s expectations – “They say great talent blooms late. But you’re taking too long to bloom.” And their anguish shows, yet is masterfully controlled by a talented cast. In one emotionally stirring sequence, Ryota’s desperation to provide Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa) with a pair of football shoes is so great, that he deliberately damages them, in order to receive a discount. It may only be a short sequence, but it is one of the many gestures within After The Storm that conveys far more raw emotion, than its character’s dialogue, ever could.
After The Storm’s cast are superb, yet it is Hiroshi Abe and his crafting of Ryota, which truly impresses. Whilst the first act predominantly focusses upon Ryota’s occupation, this isn’t The Big Sleep, or Chinatown. But it isn’t an accident either. Clearly, Ryota endeavours to help people. And his investment within these countless cases of infidelity and general depravity, only indicate that Ryota’s interest is cathartic. His repressed feelings of anger and sorrow can clearly be found within the lives of his clients, for whom he solves their case. He solves similar problems to his own, which momentarily alleviates his pain. His almost-permanent haggard complexion is lifted with a brief smile, revealing the joyful soul he once was. Abe doesn’t rely on bodily contortions or odd vocal decisions. Instead, his performance shows great restraint, especially during sequences in which melodrama might threaten to take over.
After The Storm’s first act may reek of family drama cliché, yet it is Koreeda’s unique decision to stage his final hour as a confined, intimate character study (brought upon by the arrival of a potentially deadly storm), which forces his characters to address their inherent faults and fractured relationships. The result is a quietly moving drama, which possesses some of the finest dialogue and character development, in recent years.
After The Storm is released in UK cinemas from Friday, June 2nd 2017.