Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda has the ability as a filmmaker to pull you into his story. Similar to his 2013 ‘Like Father, Like Son,’ he revels in the topic of nature vs. nurture. His latest film ‘After the Storm’ is a touching family drama and one of his best. The film reminds us that nothing is more important than the moment that you are currently in particularly if that involves spending time with your children. It’s interesting to observe a Japanese family dealing with the same issues like money, divorce and broken dreams that face an American family. Do our children inherit all their parent’s personality traits or do they have the capability of avoiding the less desirable ones? Kore-eda has created a remarkable work that deals with a family letting go of the past and moving forward.
Ryota (Abe Hiroshi) is a prize-winning novelist that struggles to follow up on the success of his novel, The Empty Table. To make ends meet, he works as a private detective. It plays on the theme that he is always looking at other’s lives instead of his own. Ryota has a gambling addiction just like his recently deceased father. We discover that he has a son, Shingo (Yoshizawa Taiyo) and a beautiful ex-wife, Kyoko (Yoko Maki). He only gets to see his son once a month and when he does see him, Kyoko reminds him that he is late with his child support. When Ryota visits his mother Yoshiko (Kirin Kiki) in her tiny apartment, she exclaims, “Why can’t men ever love the present.” She loves her son but she is not pleased with how he has inherited her husband’s addiction to gambling. She jabs at him, “You’re taking too long to bloom.”
It is how Kore-eda handles the character of Ryota that is so fascinating. There comes a time in everyone’s life where you have to see yourself for who you really are. His dreams of making a living as an author have all but faded away. He hates his job as a private detective but it is a job he is good at doing. He wants to see his son more often but since he is unreliable with his child support payments, his ex-wife threatens to stop his monthly visits. It’s a telling scene when he takes his son out for a burger and fries. When his son asks him why he didn’t order a burger, he says he is not hungry. The truth is that he cannot afford it. When he takes his son to a sporting goods store to buy him baseball cleats, he deceitfully scuffs them to get a discounted price. Although Ryota continually exhibits bad behavior, we feel empathy for him. Kore-eda masterfully lets us see beyond the protagonist’s faults to show someone worthy of love.
The third act culminates at Ryota’s mom’s tiny apartment. A small typhoon is about to hit the area. When Kyoko arrives to take Shingo home, the storm is a good excuse for Yoshiko to convince her to stay the night. She loves her ex-daughter in-law and gives it her best shot to get them back together again. It’s a wonderful scene. Ryota and Kyoko are perfectly matched but she’s been seeing a pompous but wealthy suitor. She’s willing to sacrifice true love for financial security. It’s a heartbreaking moment when Ryota realizes he must move on with his life. At a nearby playground, Ryota and Shingo eat stale cookies and watch the storm together. It is important father and son bonding. You get the sense that Shingo finally understands that his father is a good person even though he makes bad decisions.
The cast is first-rate with standout performances from Hiroshi as Ryota and Kilin as his doting mother. ‘After the Storm’ blends a gentle mix of humor and reality. As you exit the theater, it even forces you to examine your own life. We all have to face that moment to let go of our delusions and focus on real life. Kore-eda has left a place for you at the dinner table. It is up to you to show up and take in his valuable life lessons.