The pathos of gambling addiction that helps cripple relationships and the intimate details of an affected family are movingly depicted in the superb Japanese film “After the Storm,” delicately written directed by master filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda (“Like Father, Like Son”).
The acting is superb all around, as we get a look into this particular family living in an area of Tokyo that reflects contemporary neighborhoods. The key character is Ryota Shinoda, played with dead-on accuracy by excellent actor Hiroshi Abe. Shinoda achieved a modicum of success with a novel, but that was a while ago and he cannot make progress in producing another. Meanwhile, he works for a detective agency, and in the process spies on his ex-wife.
She is Kyoko, nicely portrayed with ex-wifely irritations by Yoko Maki, who is annoyed that Shinoda can’t meet his support payments. She uses visits with their son, Shingo, played with childhood innocence and sometimes bewilderment by Taiyo Yoshizawa, as a bargaining chip. He needs a father, and Shinoda struggles to keep up a relationship with him. The father-and-son scenes are especially poignant, as Shinoda is jealous of the new relationship his ex has with a boyfriend who would prefer Shinoda out of the picture.
Shinoda during a day with Shingo buys some lottery tickets, symbolic both of the father’s gambling addiction and hope for a brighter future. Of course, the ex-wife is angered by this. What is especially impressive by Abe’s performance is that despite his behavior we can feel sympathetic toward him because it would appear that he can’t help himself from being a loser.
A particularly fine performance that gives further heart to the movie is that of Kirin Kiki as Shinoda’s widowed mother, Yoshiko. The way she speaks of her recently dead husband indicates that she did not have a happy marriage. She is also wise to her sponging son, always needing money to pay debts and going so low as to try to steal from his mother. Still, she obviously loves him. As for her own future, she longs for a nicer apartment, but it is unlikely that dream will ever come true.
The shadings in the portrayal of relationships also embrace Shinoda’s sister, played by Satomi Kobayashi, who resents her brother’s behavior, and the friendly relationship their mother maintains with Shinoda’s ex-wife. The storm referred to in the title results in Shinoda and his ex and their son being stranded for a night in Yoshiko’s apartment. It becomes kind of a defining night as all are positioned together.
The beauty of “After the Storm” is the way the film quietly goes about building reality and admitting us into the intimacy of the problematic relationships. There are no histrionics even as the characters face their difficulties and anxieties. The result is realism that goes beyond kitchen sink drama.
The film is thoroughly engrossing and often moving, and leaves one with memories of characters solidly etched in one’s mind. It stands firmly among the best films I have seen so far this year, A Film Movement release. Reviewed March 17, 2017.