Sometimes wanting so little, can mean so much…
On a brief trip to Auckland this week, between checking out of my hotel and waiting for my flight back home to Wellington, I took it upon myself to head along to see a film at the NZ International Film Festival.
On this occasion it was After the Storm at Auckland’s beautiful old Civic Theatre. I was in the mood for a story that was nuanced; a slice of life, and nothing too intense. This film ticked all of those boxes.
After the Storm begins with talk of an impending typhoon. But while the story sets you up to wonder whether the storm will ever arrive, the focus of our attention is on the Shinoda family.
It is the candid connection between an elderly woman and her adult daughter that is first revealed. They speak honestly and enjoy each others company. The elderly woman, played by Kirin Kiki, is particularly charming, cheeky, quick-witted and likable—she is the grounding fixture for the family, and the film.
Her daughter visits her reliably: she is dependable, honest and has her mother’s best interests at heart, while her son Ryoto, played by model/ actor Hiroshi Abe, is the one that everyone worries about.
A one hit wonder in the world of fiction writing, Ryoto has failed to follow the success of his debut novel, which, much to his family’s disdain, relies heavily on personal family stories. A compulsive gambler, he works part-time as a dodgy spy/detective to try and make ends meet—except that they never do. On top of which, he hasn’t been able to keep up his child support payments for his twelve-year-old son, Shingo, which threatens his access to him.
The story is character-driven and unfolds like an origami flower that must be opened slowly and gently to avoid tearing the beautiful, neatly folded paper.
Ryoto still has feelings for his sensible and angelic-faced ex-wife Kyoko, but reality will never bring them back together in the way that he hopes. It is clear from the outset that he needs to grow up, and Kyoko reinforces that love is not enough to keep a family together.
Award-winning director, Hirokazu Kore-eda gently reveals the complexities of family life and the multi-faceted characteristics of love. Family bonds have many layers, some of which, unfold through secrets, stories, and inside jokes, rather than exploding dramatically through traumatic events.
“I’m not the man that I wanted to be, but I’m trying to become the man that I want to be.” Ryoto Shinoda
The script is artfully composed, with a subtle humour that makes you laugh in the places that are familiar—the family dynamic where a competitive edge exists between siblings, and the awkward relationship between former lovers. In one scene, Ryoto has the nerve to ask his ex-wife whether ‘she has done it’ with her new partner, before trying to get it on with her, himself. It is so utterly wrong and uncomfortable, but the cringe-worthiness of it makes it so horribly right.
The most profound lines emerge as we reach the climax of the film. The storm becomes a metaphor for the ebbs and flows of life; it is chaotically beautiful and reawakens the spirit, triggering memories from the past, allowing the characters to somehow speak the truth.
This is a familiar story that I could immediately relate to, from the many scenes in the grandmother’s kitchen that remind me of visiting to my own Poh-Poh (grandma) to the goading that happens between siblings, and the longing that grandchildren have to connect with their grandparents to make sense of their identity.
After the Storm is about family dynamics—the good and the bad, and the impossibility of living up to expectations that are set up for us by the ones we love.
For NZIFF dates across the country check out the NZIFF website.
After the Storm runs in Wellington 29 July-2nd August.