Disrupted family dynamics are nothing new in the films of Hirokazu Koreeda, but you'll never see any of them break down into angry shouting matches or the kind of histrionics seen in our movies. If there was a word to describe Koreeda's dramas it would be "inviting". In many cases the complicated problems that arise can be solved with a gentle conversation over a warm meal. Sometimes that simplicity seems out of step with the gravity of the situation being explored, and other times, like in Koreeda's latest, After the Storm, it can be a welcoming comfort.
Working once again with a number of regulars, Koreeda weaves a simple tale of a father trying to reconnect with the family he let slip away. The complications don't have nearly the devastating emotional impact as Koreeda's Nobody Knows or Like Father Like Son, but they also aren't as extreme. Part of the beauty of After the Storm, and much of Koreeda's work, is how he shows that simple doesn't mean uncomplicated. Ryoto (Hiroshi Abe) is someone who has unnecessarily made his life more difficult than need be. He's a well-meaning rogue, to put it nicely. A writer who found success more than a decade earlier, he has been unable to complete anything of worth since. Now he works in a third-rate detective agency, earning just enough money to float his gambling habit. He's also divorced from his ex-wife Kyoko (Yoko Maki) and far behind on child support payments, which has her threatening to pull his visits with beloved son, Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa).
Ryoto is a classic Koreeda male figure. He's someone who has never quite evolved past a former version of himself. He's still living in the past, while also recognizing the disappointment of his present day self, which caused him to lose grip on the people who mean the most to him. Fortunately, Ryoto has his mother, Yoshiko (Koreeda regular Kirin Kiki), a warm-hearted, cheerful soul with a devilish side. She welcomes her wayward son back into her life in the wake of his father's death, which he takes as an opportunity to swipe a couple of items from her shelves to pawn away. It becomes clear pretty quickly that Yoshiko sees in Ryoto the same kind of self-destructive but well-intentioned man her husband was. Whether he admits it or not, Ryoto seems to recognize that, too, but rather than try to change it has just gone with the flow, even thought it has put in jeopardy any relationship with Shingo.
You can count on pretty much every scene with Kirin Kiki to be a treat, and when she's gone, as she is sometimes for long stretches, you miss the way she lights up the screen. As Yoshiko she is very much the classic grandmother, fulfilling any need the family requires at that moment. The film begins with a great scene where she and her daughter just sit and complain about what a scoundrel Ryoto can be, but at the same time Yoshiko is willing to forgive his faults. She's always there with a ready meal to help recover from the day's battles, recognizing that over the dinner table is where family finds common ground. And when she needs to nudge things along mischievously, like in her latter attempts to reconnect Ryoto and Kyoko, well grandma has a few tricks up her sleeve. It's largely through her that the film's other great moments, the father/son scenes with Ryoto and Shingo, are able to occur. Koreeda probably could have left out, or simply trimmed down, Ryoto's gambling exploits or the scandalous cases he takes on for work. They don't add much and distract from what the movie gets right, which is the repairing of the family dynamic. After the Storm doesn't necessarily promise that all can be made whole, which may come as a surprise to Koreeda fans, but family is always worth the effort to try.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5