Kore-eda is very much a filmmaker of place; he has lived and known many of the cities and towns in which his films are set. We are thus treated to an insider’s view of a place, not the Japan of tourist brochures or sumptuous period films, but ordinary Japanese places which feel very much like the places we have lived in. We are immediately welcomed into a community, whether it is the multi-generational house in Our Little Sister, or the multi-generational housing complex in After The Storm. There are no caricatures, only characters: the handsome, elderly classical music professor who hosts opus-listening sessions in his apartment; the gossipy, cheerful neighbor; the pawnbroker and his secrets, and of course, Yoshika Shinoda, the formidable and funny mother of our anti-hero, Ryota Shinoda. We are right there with them, eating day-old cakes in the kitchen or feeling the beginnings of the storm in the courtyard. Even if you have never been to Japan, Kore-eda places feel familiar, not exotic.
In welcoming us into the heart of these places, Kore-eda invites a certain sympathy for his characters, even when they behave outrageously and badly. He does not ask us to forgive, just to listen and understand. This is important as we get to know the main character, novelist/shady detective Ryota Shinoda, who has the best intentions and the worst means. He gambles, extorts, double-crosses, and lies. But we understand all that when we are invited into his small, messy studio and see all the unsold copies of his first and only novel and a wall of sticky notes where he has slowly compiled ideas for his next novel. We learn to understand his frustration and his do-anything attitude when it comes to trying to get his life back on track. When we are invited into his mother Yoshiko’s house, we also see it all: the too-small bathtub with a clogged drain; the cramped balcony which barely has room for her plants; her carefully stacked drawers and closets. We realize why she is trying to get her son to get his life on track, make more money, and help her move into a bigger house.
Gambling, extortion, double-crossing, pawning off family heirlooms, guilt-tripping, spying on one’s ex-wife: the heart-warmingly regular and funny characters of After the Storm are far from perfect. But Kore-eda, in his inimitable manner, imbues his characters with a basic and decent humanity which transcends its very specific settings and makes us laugh. Just as important, he fully and joyfully makes his characters possible through the places in which they live, love, work and belong, inviting us to consider more carefully how much our destinies are shaped by our environments.