It’s been awhile since I reviewed a movie! We’re watching this film in Japanese class called ワンダフル・ライフ [Wandafuru Raifu], or After Life as it’s called in English. I enjoyed it so much I got a copy of it myself to finish watching before we leave on break.
The movie takes place over the course of one week and draws upon a very simple premise. Upon dying, the deceased spend one week at a waystation between life and the afterlife where they are asked to choose one significant happy memory from their lives. The staff at the facility are the focus of the film; they help the dead choose their fondest memories and then make a film of each one. When the dead finally do move on, it will be with only that recreated memory.
Most of the film is taken up in interviews with the dead about their lives. I call them “dead,” but they aren’t really any different from when they were alive. They come off as people simply charged with choosing a memory. Director Hirokazu Koreeda achieved this by enlisting not only actors, but regular people. While the interviewers and main characters are scripted, much of the secondary characters were completely ad-libbed, and they talked about their experiences from real life.
The film itself focuses on the staff, who are themselves immersed in the lives of their ‘clients’. They seem like case-workers, often discussing the happenings of the day and those having trouble choosing a memory. Throughout the film, the staff members’ personalities really come out.
The two main characters, Takashi and Shiori, both work at the facility. Their relationship is downplayed but yields considerable depth. They are the outlet for everything occurring in the facility; the week-long process shapes them and makes them think about their own afterlives.
My favorite part of this film was how the people were made to rediscover their memories in reality. The memories were made into films using actors, and every last detail was attended to. In the photo above, a 78-year-old woman is teaching her 5-year-old actress how to do the dance she had once done. It is rather thought-provoking. How do we relive memory?
After Life was by no means an action-packed film. I can’t really remember anyone so much as raising their voice. But it does tell a complex story of transition on multiple levels, and I wasn’t ever bored. This is yet another Japanese film that is poignant, cerebral and emotional all at once.