It’s hard to watch someone gamble until they bottom out, so I was relieved, in After the Storm, to find that the scenes of failed novelist Ryôta (Hiroshi Abe) borrowing and losing money were frustrating but brief. Divorced, working as a private investigator, and estranged from most of his family thanks to his parasitic money borrowing, Ryôta is stuck trying to subsist on his earlier successes, despite a long overdue need to come to terms with his current reality.
If After the Storm seems familiar, it’s because we recently saw another of director Hirokazu Koreeda’s small, intergenerational family portraits with 2015’s Our Little Sister. Koreeda has been known to take on tragic subject matter—like 2004’s Nobody Knows, about four children abandoned in a Tokyo apartment—but he’s most prolific with delicate, beautiful dramas that often feel more like novellas than films.
Comparisons between Koreeda and the narrative-driven director Yasujir Ozu abound, and though it almost seems too easy to compare the two well-known Japanese directors, I do think Ozu’s depth of frame shows up in After the Storm. If any particular shot seems to linger, it’s because the eye is meant to travel through the visible rooms and stacks of mementos in the background. Ryôta especially likes to paw through the apartment of his mother, Yoshiko (Kirin Kiki), in search of valuable objects to pawn. Eventually, Koreeda’s catalog of objects become the quiet stars of the film: A messy assortment of sticky notes describes the state of Ryôta’s second novel. A row of Honda hatchbacks represent his wife’s new friends. And four noodle bowls drying on a small rack betray the precarious balance of a family finding themselves, once again, under the same roof.