After Life (1998)

Rates: * * * * 1/2

Why Did I Watch It? I love Kore-Ada and I’m catching up on his back catalogue.

Cast, Crew, etc.

After death, people’s souls make their way to an intermediate, limbo like place, located in what seems to be a delapidated high school, where counsellors help them review their lives. Their objective: the recently deceased have one week to select one memory, which they will take with them into eternity. For some this is easy, others difficult, and some refuse outright; but regardless of their response, each soul is gifted one final spell to reflect.

An early film from Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-Ada, this blends the director’s trademark humanism, with a more fanciful story than you will find in his later works.

The first part of this plays almost like a wry comedy, as the bewilidered souls struggle to understand what is happening, and the hard working counsellors simultaneously try to guide them… while complaining about them behind their backs. Part of the comedy is the depiction of limbo itself; an unglamourous, rundown, and spare old building, very far from heaven.

But as the film progresses, and the characters talk on their lives, it becomes wistful and poignant. Their memories are a rag-tag assemblage of things; thoughts, moments, regrets, gestures, many of which seem pretty trivial. But one of the points of the movie is: nothing is trivial. Some of these small, simple things cast a very long shadow.

There are other elements; after the memories are selected, the staff make a small film of each one, for each soul. This, you imagine, is a riff on being a film maker; what is a writer or a director doing anyway, but selecting from their own memories and turning this into art?

Likewise, the very orderly depiction of the world beyond ours is shabby, but comforting. Much like in organised religion, our lights aren’t clinically snapped off, but our death takes us somewhere else, as part of a progression. I like to think that Kore-ada, a religious man, imagines his after life as some continuation of his cinematic art. Much like the characters in this movie, each of them headed for their own version of heaven.

The ending of the film is understated, and it is surprisingly emotional to watch these characters you hardly knew disappear, into some other, unknown place. It really feels like… mortality, a nebulous concept somehow captured visibly. And you wonder: what would you own final thoughts be? When you reach the end, what will you take with you?

A unique film; thoughtful, sometimes funny, ultimately very moving.

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