Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Kore-eda’s After the Storm

Given the more rigid social norms, it must be especially difficult coming to terms with personal and professional failure in conservative Japan, but at least Ryota Shinoda has a lot of experience with it. He has not written a word since the publication of his award-winning debut novel fifteen years ago and is now in danger of losing all contact with his son due to his inability to make child support payments. His angst and regret are real, but he just keeps making things worse in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After the Storm (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Supposedly, Shinoda started working at Koichiro Yamabe’s sleazy divorce detective agency to conduct research, but he has been there so long, it has become what he does—poorly. At least, he is competent enough to use his skills and connections to keep tabs on his ex-wife Kyoko Shiraishi. He is not happy to discover she has been dating a responsible white collar professional, who has taken on some of the fatherly duties Shinoda has been unable to fulfill (notably the purchase of a baseball glove).

Even though Shiraishi still might have a kernel of feeling left for Shinoda, she can see him for what he is. Believing his unreliable nature is not healthy for their son Shingo, she is on the brink of completely severing his limited access. However, his eternally indulgent mother will convince her former daughter-in-law to spend the night at her flat with Shinoda and Shingo, while a fierce typhoon blows by, in hopes that the closeness will bring them back together. It probably won’t work, but it will definitely be one of those quietly significant nights.

Indeed, quiet significance is Kore-eda’s specialty. Even though Shinoda’s self-defeating behavior often induces cringes, Kore-eda’s forgiving humanism is still reflected in every frame of Storm. We feel sorry for him (and his family), even when appalled by his actions. Kore-eda regular Hiroshi Abe always manages to maintain our sympathy even when scraping rock bottom. He is indeed perfectly cast for the man-childish Shinoda, like a Japanese Warren Beatty—tall, square-jawed, and confused looking, as if life has supplied him a steady stream of envelops that say: “best actress, Emma Stone.”

As Shingo, Taiyo Yoshizawa follows in a long line of excellent young thesps in Kore-eda films. Kirin Kiki (another Kore-eda repertory player, who was so memorable in Sweet Bean) anchors the film with grace and gravitas. Sosuke Ikematsu adds some edge and verve as Shinoda’s equally shady yet scrupulously loyal partner Kento Machida, but Lily Franky is largely wasted as their boss, Yamabe. However, Yoko Maki’s Shiraishi really puts the exclamation point on the film, with a performance of such mature restraint, it just sneaks up on you and then lays you flat.

Kore-eda is one of the most assured filmmakers working today. Storm might not be quite as exquisitely beautiful as Our Little Sister, but it is another unobtrusive minor miracle of a film that will leave you profoundly sad and deeply satisfied. Very highly recommended, After the Storm opens this Friday (3/17) in New York, at the Lincoln Plaza uptown and the IFC Center downtown.