Ryota Shinoda is a former prize-winning novelist that is stuck in a rut. After the success of his first book, he has failed to produce anything else. He now works as a detective, ostensibly as research for his latest project, but this also gives him the opportunity to spy on his son, ex-wife and her new partner. He has a problem with gambling, that we learn he has inherited from his father, that may be contributing to his lack of success. As he tries to become more involved in his son’s life, his wife wishes to keep her distance, not wanting her son to fall into the same patterns as his father.
Written, directed and edited by Hirokazu Koreeda, the film displays his unique style of storytelling, focussing on the minutiae of a single family to explore themes that are universal. This film spends much more time alone with its central character and setting up the scenario before getting to the heart of the drama, when the storm arrives and he is forced together with his ex-wife and child to confront what went wrong with his life. This can make the early sections of the film ponderous in places, though it does help us to develop a rounded picture of Ryota. The writing again shows a flair for naturalistic dialogue, while getting across salient facts about his gambling habit, his relationship with his sister and mother, and the impact his now-deceased father had on him. Likewise, the cast, some regulars in Koreeda features, do a fantastic job of bringing this family to life. Hiroshi Abe plays Ryota Shinoda with the look of a man defeated by circumstance, he is drifting aimlessly through, unable to pay his child maintenance, longing to return to happier times and unable to fully accept his current situation. He also carries with him a hope that things will be better, that has a dark side in his gambling habit. As he later tells his wife, a lottery ticket is not gambling, you are buying a dream. This typifies his somewhat skewed worldview that leads him not to exert himself as he believes everything will turn out fine in the end. Kirin Kiki delivers a great performance as Ryota’s mother, embracing a role that is familiar to her from other Koreeda films, but with the nuances of this particular character. Yoko Maki as Shinoda’s estranged wife, Kyoko, and Taiyo Yoshizawa as his son, Shingo, are great in large supporting roles. Their performances perfectly capture the frustration of Kyoko, and the optimism of Shingo who continues to look up to his father.
“After the Storm” differs from earlier Koreeda works, such as “Our Little Sister” or “I Wish” as it is very much a character piece focussed on the patriarchal figure of Ryota, rather than the family dynamics of those films. It is a film about a man who has singularly failed to take on the duties of a husband and father, and as such is exiled from the happiness of the conventional family. While family is of paramount importance to the story, Ryota’s own isolation from his wife and son is mirrored to an extend in the structure of the film, as we feel his yearning to be reunited with them strongly. Ryota’s inability to be proactive and lack of success makes it a tough watch as the character has few admirable traits. However, his love for his son acts as a beacon to him throughout, and when they meet the film gains its momentum. “After the Storm” looks at an unsuccessful man, a much-maligned section of society. Despite his lack of motivation, Ryota is sympathetic. His gambling addiction, his obvious hurt at the inability to replicate the achievement of his early novel, and his upset at seeing his wife and son move on without him, seem to typify a vulnerability that is often absent in the portrayal of men on screen. It is perhaps for this reason that the film seems to lack the vibrancy of other Koreeda films. Worth a watch for fans of Koreeda, but do not go in expecting an uplifting family drama.