“After the Storm” is written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, known for recent releases such as “Like Father, Like Son” and “Our Little Sister.” Kore-eda’s ability to tell a story that crosses all cultural boundaries is a gift that continues to be a part of his most recent film “After the Storm.” As an impending typhoon threatens, Ryota deals with the aftermath of his father’s death, his ex-wife and young son, his feisty and wise old mother and a gambling addiction that is affecting every aspect of his life. This sometimes funny, yet poignantly relevant film is truly as refreshing as a summer storm.
I had the distinct pleasure to sit down with this renowned filmmaker during the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to talk about “After the Storm.” This demur and humble man, with the help of a translator, shared with me insights into what might be his most personal film to date. After discussing the merits of my new Zoom H2N recorder and some great new transportable technologies, we talked about some of the wonderfully rich and complex characters within the film. How can a man of middle age write from a perspective of a troubled man, a wise older woman, and a little boy? He looked intently as he said, “You create the character…and then you take that character and say what environment am I going to put them in. Once I get to that point, …I just let them talk and the voices just sort of come to me. It’s like they start talking on their own.” He began to smirk as he said, “That’s when everything goes smoothly…”
The film has autobiographical elements to it as he admitted that not only did his mother actually throw out every item his father owned after he died, there are many scenes which are based on Kore-eda’s own life. For example, the little boy is certainly his voice when he was younger. He also sees himself in parts of Ryota Abe, but he also sees his own father in Abe as well. He continued, “So it’s sort of a bit of both of us together that create the character.” Parental relationships are a large part of this film and with life, as the wise mother in the film states, we all have regrets. Kore-eda recalled that he too has regrets in life, especially concerning his relationship with both his father and his mother. With both now having passed away, he felt that “…through film, you’re trying to sort of reconcile it. I don’t know if you can get back what you haven’t done, but in a sense, maybe you can look at it from a different perspective. Through working on the film, I, myself can rewrite what happened a little bit.”
This therapeutic relationship with film actually goes much deeper than what meets the eye. Kore-eda fondly recalls the feeling and the scene following a typhoon he experienced as a child. “After the typhoon, I came outside in the morning. I had my schoolbag on my back and the grass was so green and sparkling…it felt as if something had been purified, that something had been released in that moment. That’s kind of the feeling in the film as well. You have his [Ryota’s] life and it keeps going, but in that last moment….something has shifted, something has been cleaned out. It’s refreshing and it looks different” without resolving everything.
Women in the film, no matter their role, are all very strong, wise, and independent. Kore-eda confirmed that this is intentional and actually replicates his environment. He also confided that a lot of men are quite helpless, much like the men in the film. One of my favorite lines in the film made Kore-eda laugh aloud, confirming that this is typical of his male characters in “After the Storm:” “Men can’t love the present. They’re always chasing what they’ve lost or dreaming of what they can’t have.”
Laughter is actually one of his goals in this very poignant and touching film. He loved hearing audiences at TIFF really laughing and responding to his humor. He humbly said, “Certainly I don’t have some profound lesson about life. I remember there was a group of women around the same age as Kiki [watching the film]. They laughed and cried. You watch the film and you see a piece of yourself. It’s very close to you and close to your life. Seeing people responding in that way…that’s enough for me.”
“After the Storm” will touch your life and open your eyes to see things in a new and perhaps a fresh way. The film will be a part of the upcoming Chicago International Film Festival, playing October 19 and 20. For more information about getting tickets, go to www.chicagofilmfestival.com