Length: 118 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 4 October 2010
Cat No: SODA041
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After Life (Kore-Eda, 1998)
Kore-eda Hirokazu, director of the acclaimed 1996 film ’Maborosi’, returns with this meditation on happiness and memory. Arriving in... Read More
Original, imaginative & affecting - it hooked me from the start.
As visions of the afterlife go, this one is almost hilariously downbeat, its setting being a somewhat dilapidated school campus out of term-time. There, the weekly intake are informed officially that they have dies (‘sorry for your loss’), then told that they have three days to choose the single most meaningful memory of their lives, which will then be recreated for them in a studio, filmed and screened. After the screening, they will move on to another place, taking only this one recollection with them, all others having been erased.
In a fascinating blend of documentary and fiction (a number of the conversations were those of the actors entering into the spirit of the film and revealing special memories for the project), the newly-deceased are interviewed about their lives by guides who try to tease out their respective mental destinations. Time and again it is the small, easily overlooked moments that take on significance – a breeze through a tram window, a bell on a girl’s bag, autumn sunlight, eating rice balls in a bamboo grove. The characters too are just what you might expect in such a situation – the perenially indecisive man, a man with endless tales of sexual conquest (there appears to be one of those every week; they invariably choose another memory entirely), the youth who refuses to play along (‘your whole set-up needs re-thinking’), the old woman who sits in complete silence, living entirely in her own mind, and the man who only has bad memories who says that to be able to lose them truly would be heaven. The guides are courteous and tactful but, pleasingly, not above a bit of gossip – ‘What are they like?’ , ‘Just average’, ‘They’re the worst aren’t they?’.
The resolutely lo-fi nature of the place and its enterprise is apparent throughout and only adds to the film’s charm – this is a place of notebooks, desks, old style telephones, slide show meetings about the week’s deceased, filing cabinets and video tapes. There’s even a power cut when everytone usese their hair-dryer at the same time to look their best for filming day. Even the film department has to make ingenious use of their limited resources (cotton wool for clouds, tissue paper for cherry blossom).
For all its good humour, the film has a serious side too. Kore-eda says his aim was to show that by being engaged in a dialogue with one’s past, one can affirm one’s life and grow spiritually. He raises the question too of whether a meaningful memory is one in which you yourself are content, or one in which you are part of another’s happiness.
After Life is a film with one of the lightest touches regarding mortality that I know of. Watching it, one cannot but have the persistent thought, ‘what memory would I choose?’, aware that every day you are creating new memories, both for yourself and for others.
For those lucky enough to have been able to see it theatrically the relelease of Kore-eda's Afterlife on DVD is both long overdue but, most of all, very welcome. It's certainly one of the most original imaginings of life after death put on screen; expertly weaving drama with non-scripted interviews.
The real achievement is Kore-eda's deft avoidance the the pitfalls that could have rendered the whole thing a rather mawkish, over-sentimental exercise. Instead, what we have is a film that engaging, funny and poignant in more or less equal measure. It is also a very warm and humane film which is a risky thing to say about a picture nowadays but there is little question that it manages to almost tease and caress the audience into asking its own questions over mortality in a quite delicate and agreeable manner.
A genuine modern classic.