One of the great pleasures of my job is introducing people to new artists, so it’s with great delight that I welcome the UK release of After The Storm, by one of my favourite film makers in the world, Hirokazu Kore-eda.
This Japanese director’s work is all about modern families. He’s a realist and a slight sentimentalist, always a powerful combination, and he usually allies it to perceptive, warmly humourous observations about family life, often torn between urban centres and gorgeous rural backwaters.
Try and seek out I Wish, about two separated boys dreaming of a bullet train that might re-unite their two cities; or Still Walking, as perfectly beautiful picture of a family by the sea as you could ever see; or Nobody Knows, about a little boy left stranded in the big city.
For now, After The Storm will do more than nicely, the titular typhoon resulting in a man, Shinoda, divorced from his wife and son – but still totally in love with them – and all of them are holed up in his elderly mother’s tiny flat to wait out the winds and rains.
It’s a comic situation, helped by a wonderfully bustling performance by Kirin Kiki as the grandma who contemplates her years with wistful aphorisms: “Making new friends at my age just means more funerals.”
Kore-eda doesn’t play things for laughs, though. He deepens our understanding of characters and shows us Shinoda’s shambolic situation: he’s a novelist who hasn’t written a book in 15 years, still clinging onto the minor acclaim of his debut. Now, he’s a private detective and a slightly corrupt one at that, mostly using his skills to spy on his ex-wife and her new lover. Shinoda’s behind on childhood support payments and scours his mother’s flat for heirlooms and treasures that might earn him some cash while he dreams of actually starting another novel.
He’s not particularly likeable, except he’s played by the handsome and charismatic Hiroshi Abe, and your heart somehow goes out to him no matter how low he might be stooping, or how useless he might be. Thing is, after all, he does love his Mum.
The storm here is as much metaphorical as physical, and it forms the film’s centrepiece, but Kore-eda is such a subtle, delicate film maker, that really it’s all about the build up. The release, the aftermath, is gentle, a calm after the storm and resonates with the restorative goodness of a warm glow.
His films are minor masterpieces, like a smile slowly breaking out across a furrowed face, clouds disappearing into sunshine. After The Storm is a perfect place to start.