After the Storm (2016)

Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda

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“I wonder why it is that men can’t love the present.”

After the Storm splits its story amongst several family members, though the main character at the center of all of this is a once-successful novelist who is now a gambling-addicted private investigator spending most of his time tailing his ex-wife and son, along with the new boyfriend who has replaced him.  This character, Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), alternately clings to the past and future and thus suffers as a result.

He is surrounded by people more adapted to the present, in spite of any shortcomings it may present (no pun intended).  This includes his elderly mother, Yoshiko, who chugs along happily enough in the wake of her husband’s death, his sister, Chinatsu, whose regular visits with his mother are evidence to Ryota that she is scheming behind his back rather than simply living, and his ex-wife Kyoko, who has moved on from him long ago with her own life.

Living as far in the past as Ryota is, he is unable to fully connect with the people around him, almost like a reluctant time traveler.  He is a museum piece come to life, a relic with a soul, there only to reckon with his lack of place in the world.  He will try to connect, of course, reaching out to his son with gifts he can hardly afford thanks to the money he has already gambled away.  Similarly he will appeal to his ex-wife, trying to see if the emotional connection is still there (it isn’t), like trying to reignite the smoldering remains of a morning campfire.

It’s a painful, delicate story, but despite the apparent bleakness of Ryota’s worldview, the film has room for comedy.  In some ways he is presented as a slapstick version of Jake Gittes or any number of private detectives from old films noir.  His profession quickly reminds you of those old detective stories, but there is no rabbit hole to follow into a series of deceptions, femme fatales and corruption.  That would be a story far too important for the one Ryota is capable of living.  His instead is a series of cases of infidelity in which he and his young partner are more interested in using the evidence they gather to play the other party against the one who hired them, all for a better price. This money, inevitably, will be lost gambling at the race tracks.

So After the Storm has a series of character and plot points that would seem to build to a big, climactic finale but never does.  Ryota is a character we initially expect to inhabit a much more exciting, pessimistic noir with its accompanying twists and turns, but unlike those noir heroes, Ryota is too self-absorbed and pitiful to take us on that kind of rollercoaster because that would imply a certain amount of going with the flow.  He is too stuck in the past and future to follow any breadcrumbs which may lie before him.

After the Storm is a sincere look at one man’s plight, and through it we certainly glimpse the sadness of others, particularly of his mother.  The people around him are no less burdened by the weight of the world, but they have figured out how to deal with it, with loss, loneliness, social pressures, etc.  They face the same obstacles as Ryota but have learned long ago how to traverse them.

The movie’s title refers to a typhoon which is continually acknowledged throughout the film but which doesn’t arrive until well into the second half of the story.  It’s a storm which will force Ryota, his mother, son and ex-wife to hole up together at his mother’s small apartment.  Such tight quarters do force a certain amount of confrontation, but there are never any big blow outs or melt downs.  Instead Ryota just comes closer to accepting what is and what won’t be, as does his mother.  With their own growth, they play catch up and figure out, just a little, how to co-exist with the people around them as they are, not as they once were or could be.

Up Next: Hollow Man (2000), Thunder Road (2018), The Meg (2018)

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