That advice might be directed specifically at an ex-husband stewing over his ex-wife’s new beau, but more broadly it encapsulates the mission statement of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After the Storm. The film is a delicate reflection on the internal politics of a family divided, but it’s also a story of how we concoct our own imagined futures and try to make these fantasies a reality at the expense of our present.
Protagonist Shinoda Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) is an award-winning author turned deadbeat; he’s working as a private investigator to ‘research’ his next novel, but in reality he indulges in shaking down clients on the side to fund an unhealthy gambling addiction. In his imagined future, he’s successful and reunited with his wife Kyoko (Yôko Maki) and son Shingo (Taiyô Yoshizawa); but in the present, he squanders his meagre earnings by betting on cycling and turns up to meet his son unable to pay the necessary child support. “Most men can’t love the present,” we’re told, and that’s certainly true of Ryota. He’s charming but basically a bad person, warped by the legacy of his own gambling addict father (since dead, though his impact is so significant that this film could’ve easily had the same title of one of Kore-eda’s earlier films: Like Father, Like Son).
Ryota’s family have written their own fictions, though perhaps none quite as delusional. His mother, Yoshiko (Kirin Kiki), laments her miniscule apartment. She imagines a past where she wasn’t swindled by her husband, she imagines a future where the classical-musical-loving, condo-owning gentleman from her neighbourhood offers her wealth or, at least, comfort.
But primarily, Yoshiko’s role is to puncture her family’s fantasies, to dissolve the clouds of imaginings of what wasn’t and won’t be. Kore-eda’s vision of family is one defined by manipulation and honesty alike, as brothers and sisters and daughters and sons squabble and gently erode each other’s fictions. After the Storm concludes with Yoshiko, Ryota, Kyoko and Shingo reunited by a raging typhoon, and their enforced proximity leads to a gradual dismantlement of the lies they try and try and try to tell each other.
After the Storm represents my first exposure to Kore-eda’s unostentatious, brilliantly observant style of filmmaking, but it surely won’t be my last. His approach is reminiscent of a modernised Naruse: just as caustic, just as sceptical of social norms, just as generous to his characters – even the most loathsome. But the true standout talent of After the Storm is surely Kirin Kiki’s wondrous performance; she’s funny, eccentric and utterly authentic, carrying the film’s emotional complexities with a natural ease.