Dead­beat comes to life

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

AF­TER THE STORM Di­rected by Hirokazu Koreeda. Star­ring Hiroshi Abe, Kirin Kiki, Yoko Maki. Cert PG, lim­ited re­lease, 118mins Ry­ota (Hiroshi Abe), is a tall, hand­some, prize-win­ning novelist. He could have been a con­tender. In­stead, he’s a dead­beat dad who has fallen months be­hind on child sup­port and who can’t even cheer on his son a base­ball games with­out sound­ing daft.

His ex-wife, Kyoko (Yoko Maki ) in­sists he pays up – not for the first time, we sus­pect – or he risks not see­ing his young son, Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa). She re­lents – not for the first time, we sus­pect – as Shingo misses his dad and is not keen on Kyoko’s rich new boyfriend: “If we win the lot­tery could we all live to­gether again?” the boy later asks his grand­mother.

Cer­tainly, money is an is­sue, but there’s more to it than that. Ry­ota sup­ple­ments his fail­ing writ­ing ca­reer by work­ing as a de­tec­tive and oc­ca­sion­ally by scam­ming those he in­ves­ti­gates. A com­pul­sive gam­bler who’s peren­ni­ally in debt, he’s con­stantly raid­ing the cup­boards of the apart­ment that be­longs to his re­cently wid­owed mother, look­ing for things to pawn. Of­ten, his late fa­ther has beaten him to it.

His wry, wise mother ( Sweet Bean’s Kirin Kiki) com­pares her son to the plant on her bal­cony she wa­ters: it nei­ther flow­ers nor pro­duces fruit, but it does feed cater­pil­lars.

To trick Kyoko into spend­ing time with him, Ry­oto brings Shingo to his mother’s apart­ment just as a storm is ap­proach­ing Tokyo. Sure enough, Kyoko and Shingo get stranded and the board games come out. “Play­ing Game of Life with you is like a bad joke,” Kyoko snaps at Ry­oto.

In com­mon with the long-suf- fer­ing Kyoko, it’s im­pos­si­ble for the viewer not to like the rogu­ish, goofy Ry­oto. But you just don’t want to be mar­ried to the guy. A like­able loser hero, he’s a typ­i­cally bit­ter­sweet, nu­anced Hirokazu Koreeda cre­ation.

As ever, the di­rec­tor has fash­ioned a lovely, ap­peal­ing, lightly comic film that ex­ists some­where be­tween late Ozu and early Spiel­berg. Just when you think you’re watch­ing a vari­a­tion on The Par­ent Trap, the film wan­ders away from big strings and melo­drama. The bick­er­ing, es­pe­cially be­tween Ry­ota and his sus­pi­cious sis­ter, is keenly ob­served. The digs are as sly as the rest of the film.

Like­able loser: Hiroshi Abe in Af­ter the Storm

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