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Arts & Life

'After The Storm' Continues In Director Hirokazu Kore-eda's Tradition

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda builds his films on small events observed in great detail. They've won numerous awards, both critical and popular, around the world. His latest film has won five stars on Rotten Tomatoes. It's called "After The Storm," and it's just opening in theaters around the country. Howie Movshovitz of member station KUNC has more.

HOWIE MOVSHOVITZ, BYLINE: For almost three decades, Hirokazu Kore-eda has focused his lens primarily on the family and how families handle the kinds of things that can happen to families. In "After The Storm," a grandfather has died, and the adult son is grappling with divorce.

HIROKAZU KORE-EDA: (Through interpreter) In that family, many things have been lost, so you have a choice. Are you going to cry? Are you going to accept? Are you going to carry on? For example, the grandmother lost the grandfather. The son lost a father. The wife is being lost. And so there's all these pieces that have been lost along the way. How do you fill that gap and then go on?

JUSTIN CHANG: What I love about this film, as with many of his films, is that, by the end, you feel almost that not much has happened and yet a lot has happened.

KORE-EDA: Justin Chang as a film critic for The Los Angeles Times.

CHANG: In a way that's kind of just like real life - the way it sort of catches us off guard not through any huge momentous shifts in events, but just through kind of the everyday flow of lived experience.

MOVSHOVITZ: Like a lot of parents, the widowed grandmother is critical of her son, a once successful writer now divorced and working in a dead-end job. She compares him to a plant that never blooms.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "AFTER THE STORM")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: (As character) (Speaking Japanese).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) (Speaking Japanese).

MOVSHOVITZ: The filmmaker says "After The Storm" is in some ways autobiographical.

KORE-EDA: (Through interpreter) I would say that my mother was like that, but now that I think about it, maybe that's why women of that generation love it so much. She says all the things that they couldn't say to their sons.

MOVSHOVITZ: He adds that from the beginning, he wanted his characters to be flawed.

KORE-EDA: (Through interpreter) In this movie, all the characters - in a sense, they didn't become the adults that they should have been.

MOVSHOVITZ: Kore-eda reinforces this idea with a characteristically subtle image of the place where the grandmother lives.

KORE-EDA: (Through interpreter) The housing complex itself didn't achieve the dreams that it was meant to be. When it was first built, the idea was that families would come in. They would have small children. Their lives would improve, and they would move out into single houses. And then more families would come on, but that never happened. In the end, the people that lived there continue to live there. The children grew up and moved away, and now everybody living in these housing complexes are old.

MOVSHOVITZ: Yet the younger characters keep coming back. They're drawn together by a typhoon, the storm the film's title.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "AFTER THE FILM")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #2: (As character) (Speaking Japanese).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) (Speaking Japanese).

MOVSHOVITZ: "After The Storm" is not unrelenting sadness, says film critic Justin Chang. He points out that there's a kind of gentle humor to Kore-eda's films.

CHANG: And sometimes it's poised right on the edge. You don't know whether to kind of laugh gently or sort of cry gently.

MOVSHOVITZ: But the filmmaker's also tough.

CHANG: Where I think the gentleness comes in is the way the director, Kore-eda, refuses to judge the characters. You don't - you don't feel like he's putting his characters through the ringer. Where the toughness comes in is, I think, his just willingness to be very honest about who they are.

MOVSHOVITZ: Chang says "After The Storm" is an optimistic movie about a man who's tall physically, but just doesn't feel that way until the very end. Writer and director Hirokazu Kore-eda...

KORE-EDA: (Through interpreter) He did physically grow up big, but his heart didn't follow. And throughout the movie, you'll notice that he's hunched over and kind of crunched over. And then at the very, very end, when he sits down, that's the first time he straightens his back. And in my mind, that was the movie.

MOVSHOVITZ: It's a small gesture, typical of the films of Hirokazu Kore-eda but, it means a lot. For NPR News, I'm Howie Movshovitz. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.