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Movie Reviews

After Life  

(Japanese title Wandafuru raifu/Wonderful Life, 1998)

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda


Most films about the after life are either comedies or horror films, and don't really deal with any of those big questions that such a topic usually raises. After Life is one of those rare films that does, exploring memory and the qualities of the human condition.

The plot line is quite simple: recently deceased souls gather at a sort of half-way point, where they are given 3 days to decide on a memory that they will then take to the other side to relive for eternity. I'm probably making this film sound like a bit pretentious. However there is very little pretentiousness about the whole thing. There are no ethereal mists, no other-worldly beings dressed in glowing costumes - in fact everything looks perfectly ordinary. For example, the people who work at this place are very human: Shiori is in love with Mochizuki, who doesn't return her feelings, and their boss cheats at board games; and the settings are decidedly down-to-earth and run-down (sometimes the electricity cuts out!). At times, this film feels like a documentary - in fact, Kore-eda interviewed hundreds of real life people for their memories, selecting several to appear later with the real actors in the film.

The movie doesn't try to explain the inner workings of this place, nor the reason for its existence - rather, he focuses on the people and characters themselves to provide the emotional depth for the movie. People from all ages and all walks of life are depicted, and somehow Kore-eda manages to convey the full spectrum of human emotions, from joy to sadness, bitterness to serenity; without descending into sentimentality or incoherence. For such a low-key movie, it achieves a lot of remarkable things. It delivers moving performances from non-actors and first-time actors, and veterans alike (Arata as Mochizuki, Oda Erika as Shiori, Terajima Susumu, Naito Taketoshi, Kagawa Kyoko, Tani Kei, Naito Takashi and Iseya Yusuke). A film which generates a lot of thought-provoking questions.

Eden Law

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