“AFTER THE STORM” — 3 stars — Hiroshi Abe, Yoko Maki, Satomi Kobayashi, Sosuke Ikematsu; not rated (probable PG for scattered profanity and some sexual references); Broadway
“After the Storm” is a sad but insightful story about a father trying to reconcile his mistakes.
Shinoda Ryôta (Hiroshi Abe) is a middle-aged Japanese man who never quite grew up. For a time, he was a successful novelist, was married and had a son, but various vices and emotional shortcomings gradually untied his life’s various threads. When we meet him, he is bleary-eyed and lanky, trying to reconnect with his ex-wife and estranged son.
Ryôta is working as a private detective, traveling around town with his partner Machida (Sosuke Ikematsu), examining the seedy underbelly of the local unfaithful. He initially took the job as a part-time gig to research his latest book, but as Ryôta’s life unwound, the side job became his only means of income.
Coincidentally, his new job skills enable him to track his ex-wife, Kyôko (Yôko Maki), who appears to be in a new relationship. When Ryôta sees that her new beau has bought his son, Shingo (Taiyô Yoshizawa), a new baseball glove, the already-agitated father becomes desperate.
The one anchor in Ryôta’s life is his mother, Yoshiko (Kirin Kiki), who has lived alone in a run-down apartment since his father died. She’s fairly happy, alternating time with her family — including Ryôta’s sister Chinatsu (Satomi Kobayashi) and her children — with a classical music appreciation group run by an elderly music professor who lives nearby.
To say “After the Storm” is character-driven feels like a dramatic understatement. Aside from an incoming typhoon that represents the literal interpretation of the film’s title, director Hirokazu Koreeda’s film is a quiet, contemplative work, almost documentary in style, that simply follows Ryôta around as he tries to reconnect with his estranged family.
Ryôta is allowed to see his son once a month, though Kyôko threatens to end those meetings since her ex-husband never manages to bring his alimony payments to the exchanges. We watch Ryôta and Shingo spend a day together, buying baseball cleats and indulging in some of Dad’s vices, like buying lottery tickets. Ryôta insists that buying lottery tickets isn’t the same as gambling, but both exercises take their toll on the author/detective’s meager earnings.
Abe plays Ryôta as a character who is both sympathetic and sad, the kind of protagonist you cheer for but understand when he falls short. Even as a detective, his ethics are questionable, as we see him confront a woman he’d been hired to investigate with the evidence he’s gathered against her, then offer to destroy the evidence if she can offer him a better deal.
Later in the film, his mother manages to get Ryôta, Kyôko and Shingo to stay with her at her apartment when the storm finally arrives, secretly hoping to reunite their shattered family unit. Ryôta’s mother may be the last person who truly believes in him, and their relationship is just one of many explorations of the family dynamic through Koreeda’s film.
“After the Storm” is a quiet meditation, but it does include some lighter moments to keep things from getting too dreary (Kiki's performance is especially enjoyable), and it’s sweet to see Ryôta take his son around his old neighborhood, excitedly pointing out the different places where he had adventures as a child. Koreeda’s film isn’t so much a cautionary tale as it is an examination of a man’s reconciliation with his failures, and his resolve to make the best of his life in spite of them.
“After the Storm” is not rated, but might earn a PG for scattered profanity and some sexual references; it is presented in Japanese, with English subtitles; running time: 117 minutes.