Domestic dramas are a genre that can easily fall into melodrama or too sweet to be reality. Hirokazu Koreeda is a director who has managed to get the fine-tuned balance to produce films that showcase the ups and downs of life with a light touch but never become saccharine. His previous film, Our Litter Sister, was a beautiful and charming story of family ties and one of my favourite films of the year so far, so how does his latest film fare?
With his past as an award-winning novelist behind him, Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) has hit rock bottom. Working at a private detective agency, ostensibly for research for his next novel, he gambles, swindles, and is forever behind on his child support payments. Despite never taking much of an interest in their lives before, he seems utterly desperate to get his wife Kyoko (Yoko Maki) and son Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa) back. The situation presents itself when they end up stuck in the apartment of Ryota’s mother (Kirin Kiki) during a typhoon.
This is a very quiet film, not interested in being over the top but rather just letting the audience observe. What begins as a character study of this perpetual loser turns into a quiet meditation on how life doesn’t turn out the way we expect it to and how we deal with that fact. There’s also an edge of women dealing with situations better than men, as Yoshiko is doing fine after the death of Ryota’s father, Kyoko is dating a new man and has moved on from her marriage, and even a brief encounter with an old school friend of Ryota who whilst down on her luck a little remains positive and sensible about her life. Ryota, meanwhile, is constant in his misguided efforts to make things better for himself. He is given an opportunity for steady writing work on a manga series, but is unwilling. He could easily save money for child support from his underhanded deals he does with clients at his detective job, but instead attempts to double it through gambling so that he can buy gifts for his son as part of his efforts of getting his family back, inevitably losing the money. His attempts to try would almost be endearing, if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s doing it for all the wrong reasons or some of his less moral decisions. His wish to get back Kyoko and Shingo is less about genuine wish to reconcile; it’s more to get things back to how he feels they should be. Actor Hiroshi Abe’s performance is a good balance between really making the most of Ryota’s bad decisions, whilst still keeping him an engaging character to watch.
The real treat of the film, performance-wise, though is Kirin Kiki, who has worked with Koreeda several times and has even played Hiroshi Abe’s mother being in the director’s film Still Walking. As Ryota’s mother Yoshiko she brings a light lack of tact to the movie, an old woman who hasn’t seen the death of her husband as an ending, but rather as a new opportunity, and is able to dispense wisdom to her family as she sees fit.
It doesn’t have the same kind of endless charm as Our Little Sister, but After the Storm is a sweet and subtle domestic drama that feels like a breath of fresh air.
This film was screened as part of the London Film Festival.
A sweet, funny, and well balanced drama