The central character in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After the Storm is Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), a one-time novelist who has turned to working as a private detective in order to try to carve out a living, to pay child support, and to research for his next book. None of that is really true though, it’s just a lie that he tells himself. Ryota actually spends the bulk of his earnings at the track, is far behind on his child support, and there’s seemingly no book. Ryota is almost a cliché of a cinematic deadbeat dad, but Kore-eda is not interested in simple stereotypes, and across the course of nearly two hours he explores Ryota’s life through subtle, almost imperceptible moments of character-driven drama.
Kore-eda is a master of human observation, and whether Ryota is following people for his clients, trying to spend quality time with his son, or hanging out with his slightly cranky but unbelievably charming elderly mother, Yoshiko (Kilin Kiki), the real drama is to be found in the quiet moments between the dialogue or the way a character shrugs or moves uncomfortably as someone else is talking.
Quiet family dramas have become Kore-eda’s bread and butter, and this film is no exception, with the multi-generational story even extending beyond the characters we see on screen – Ryota’s deceased father is an ever-present force. As the family moves within their home spaces, particularly Yoshiko’s small ‘condo’ – Ryota apologies for being such a bad son that he can’t buy her somewhere nicer – we grow to understand the family and feel very much at home with them too.
As the film builds towards a suitably understated climax – the storm of the film’s title forces Ryota, his ex-wife and their son to stay overnight at Yoshiko’s apartment – the characters begin to deal with the many issues and emotions that the film has slowly been building up. There is no shouting though or grand drama, these characters are subtly changing their views and coming to terms with things in a quiet and mannered fashion.
Struggling to deal with the past and what the future will hold, Ryota is by far the most melancholic of the group, but even as the film draws to a close and things don’t necessarily look much brighter for him, there is the sense that he has reached some peace.
A subtly moving, witty and wonderfully observed human drama, this is a beautifully low-key drama from a director who seems to understand people in such an utterly profound way.