I seem to have a knack for timing my business trips to Japan in sync with releases of my favorite director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s films, and this time is no exception. Last night I had the chance to check out 海よりもまだ深く (Umi yori mo mada fukaku) or After the Storm), a welcome addition to Kore-eda’s impressive body of work. It features the familiar cast of characters who can be found throughout the rest of his films, such as Hiroshi Abe and Kirin Kiki paired once again as mother and son, and Lily Franky.
Abe plays Ryota, a character with the same name as the one he played in Kore-eda’s 歩いても歩いても (Aruito mo aruite mo or Still Walking). This Ryota is a formerly award-winner author who barely makes ends meet by gambling and his job as a private investigator. He struggles to pay child support to his ex-wife in order to be able to see his son on a monthly basis. Despite being accustomed to Kore-eda’s leisurely pace, I found the film a bit slow at the beginning. However, as the story unfolded I started to be drawn more into the stories of the characters. Perhaps it was because I’m far from home and missing my own family, but I found my eyes filling with tears during some of the tender family moments. I loved the deceivingly simple but significant shot of the four bowls and four sets of chopsticks, drying after being washed following a family meal.
I was blown away by the extremely nuanced performance of Taiyo Yoshizawa who plays Ryota’s son, and thrilled to see Yukiyoshi Ozawa (the very crush-worthy Katsuragi Sensei from the NHK Sakura morning drama!) in the role of Ryota’s ex-wife’s new boyfriend. It goes without saying that Kiki was amazing as Ryota’s mother who just lost her husband and lives in low-rent housing while longing for a condo, and Franky has a humorous role as Ryota’s boss at the detective agency. Ryota is a lost soul at the beginning of the film but at the end we somehow have hope for him, an idea reflected in the beautifully haunting closing song “深呼吸” (shinkokyuu or deep breath) from ハナレグミ (Hanaregumi). Its lyrics include "saying goodbye to the me of yesterday" and "hello again to the me of tomorrow." Abe is masterful at subtly conveying this change, with the film’s last scene showing him walking upright as opposed to the slouched shoulders and defeated gait he had for the majority of the film.