In season two of the American version of The Office, Michael Scott posits that there’s nothing more exciting than a gun being pulled during a scene. That may certainly hold true if you’re 11 years old and the only thing that keeps your interest in a movie is people being shot. Then again, I thought about what Michael Scott said while watching yet another glacially paced movie by Hirokazu Koreeda.
After The Storm premiered at the 2016 Cannes and it’s a slow, deliberate contemplation about family and regret. It’s scene after scene of medium shots in which the protagonist, Ryota, played by the perpetually sleepy-looking Hiroshi Abe, wonders how he wound up where he is. It’s an eternal question that not only lingers in literature, music and film, but also in real life. And typically, the answers are always the same: dumb choices, laziness, lack of vision and courage, the unwillingness to challenge oneself or conventions, etc. In the case of Ryota, he’s middle aged, divorced with a son and despite having won an award 15 years ago for his novel, he’s reduced himself to being a private eye who shakes down his targets. Or in one case he takes on, he looks for a lost cat.
Compared to some of Koreeda’s other films, this one is particularly formless. Its structure meanders from one slightly dull event to another until it feels like it’s simply melting on a hot sidewalk. There’s no center of gravity that holds everything together except for the question of, “How did I end up like this?” In fact, somewhere around the middle of the movie, that’s what Ryota asks himself. That moment seemed to only point to the vagabond nature of the story. The plot just drifts in a small pool of thought, offering little dramatic pull.
Koreeda has always seemed to me a more of a chronicler and less a filmmaker. He offers simple premises and often times, delivers complex consequences. Air Doll, for example, is based on the premise that a sex doll comes to life. This results in a rather thickly layered examination of loneliness, the nature of affection/attraction and our ability to connect to others. But in this movie, the search for answers barely comes with a pulse.
There are scenes of genuine dialogue that are pleasant to witness. For example, the opening scene of a mother and daughter having a casual conversation about figure skating, dinner and calligraphy seems real enough without being self-conscious about its own banality. But later, when the mother and son are having a conversation in the same spirit, the rhythm of their conversation seems natural but the content is narratively disarming. Specifically, they talk about the nature of masculine failures. Why can’t men rise above their worse natures? Sure, it’s an interesting and sometimes necessary conversation to have, but in the context of this drama, it feels like an artificial insertion. That question is intrinsically built into the narrative after all.
There are better Koreeda films out there and he’s got quite an oeuvre that ranges from the deathly boring Maborosi to the stirring melodrama, Like Father, Like Son. I don’t recollect seeing a gun in any of his movies, but maybe for his next film, he can prove Michael Scott to be right.