Toward the end of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest complex family drama, “After the Storm,” an aging matriarch muses, “I wonder why it is that men can’t love the present. Either they just keep chasing whatever it is they’ve lost, or they keep dreaming beyond their reach.
“How can you enjoy life if you keep doing that?”
She is speaking not only of her husband, who has recently died, the wreckage of his life still affecting those he left behind; but also her son, who once was a novelist with a wife and son but has lost it all apparently to a midlife crisis that even he can’t identify.
Unlike the completely winning “Our Little Sister” from last year, Kore-eda’s latest effort is decidedly downbeat, his characters more opaque and his pacing more languid, even by Kore-eda’s usual standards. It’s an interesting, at times absorbing, and quietly unsettling film.
Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) has lost his mojo. Fifteen years earlier, his novel won a prestigious award, but he has yet to follow up on that success. He is divorced from Kyoko (Yoko Maki) and is behind on his child support — he is limited by the divorce settlement to visiting his son Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa) once a month.
He is also broke, probably because of the cost of the divorce and his gambling habit. With no follow-up novel in the works, he has taken a job with a private detective agency. As he gets the goods on his clients’ cheating significant others, he also examines his own life, which he is gradually realizing is a failure.
“I’m the ‘great talents bloom late’ kind,“ Ryota tells his mother (Kirin Kiki, who is excellent).
Not buying it for a second, Mom responds, “You’re taking too long to bloom.”
Unable to move on, Ryota uses his private eye skills to spy on his ex-wife and her new boyfriend, who seems to be everything he is not — and a nice guy to boot. What could be a creepy sort of plot twist is, in Kore-eda’s hands, more of a sad desperation.
As with many of Kore-eda’s best films — “Maborosi,“ “Still Walking” — “After the Storm” has what the Japanese call mono no aware, which translates as “the pathos of things.” It is a film that is aware of the transient nature of life.
“How did life turn out this way?” is a line spoken by several of the characters in the film.
Kore-eda’s advice? Time to turn the page and move on.
(At the Tivoli.)
‘After the Storm’
Not rated. Time: 1:57.
In Japanese with subtitles.