Can our children pick and choose the personality traits they inherit, or are they doomed to obtain our lesser qualities? These are the hard questions being contemplated in After The Storm, a sobering, transcendent tale of a divorced man’s efforts to nudge back into his son’s life. Beautifully shot, it marks a brilliant return to serious fare for director Hirokazu Kore-eda following last year’s Our Little Sister.
Kore-eda regular Hiroshi Abe plays Ryota, a prize-winning author struggling to live up to the success of his first novel. He’s a father of one, a gambling addict, and a bit of an asshole. We learn he’s been researching for his follow-up book by moonlighting as a private eye. The job leads Ryota to spy on his ex-wife, Kyoko (played with great eloquence by Yoko Maki), who has begun seeing another man. This works as a catalyst for Ryota, strengthening his resolve and giving him the impetus to rebuild his relationship with his only child.
Kore-eda has dedicated the majority of his career to examining this struggle between nature and nurture in middle-class Japanese families (Like Father Like Son, I Wish, Still Walking, Nobody Knows). After The Storm is both the least sentimental of the director’s nature-vs.-nurture films and the most profound.
We first meet Ryota as he scours through his deceased father’s stuff. He finds a stack of old pawn slips and lottery tickets – a vice that we soon discover has been passed down. After The Storm is concerned with whether or not Ryota’s son, Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa), will also inherit this particular hobby, and whatever other traits – good or bad – that his father has.
In cahoots with Shingo’s grandmother, Yoshiko (Kiki Kirin), Ryota orchestrates a dinner together with his son and ex-wife in his old family apartment. But a storm hits and Kyoko and Shingo are stranded, so they spend the night with Ryoto and his mother, opening old wounds and rehashing arguments. Lineage and legacy, a very Japanese concern, are on the mind here. ‘Why can’t men ever love the present?’, an exasperated Yoshiko wonders aloud. It’s a moment so devastating you feel the scenery might as well crumble around her.
This is Kore-eda at his very best, facing up to the hardest truths with honesty and a nervous laugh – uncomfortable, invigorating, and ultimately cleansing, like the cinema’s equivalent of a cold shower. And I mean that in the best way possible.
– Rory O’Connor, The Film Stage