Monday, May 17, 2010

After Life

(1999, Japan, Kore-eda (director))

The mundane and somewhat decrepit building where the film is set is a half way station where the newly dead are processed for their onward journey. They must select within a day or two the best moment of their lives which will be the only memory they will be able to preserve. A momentous decision and the ever courteous staff helps the inductees in interactive sessions.

The film, in it's muted naturalness, becomes a retrospective on the lives of different people, including the staff of the center. There is no hint of otherworldliness anywhere in the movie and it's only through the hushed tones of speakers and the melancholy play of light that the solemnity of the situation is conveyed. The absence of a musical score is another strength.  A delicate, compassionate film which more than theorizing about the life ahead, conveys the intensification of our daily life which can only be brought about by the awareness of death, awareness of how limited is the duration of our stay. Underlying the film perhaps is also the conviction that life does continue. By setting the film in a very ordinary place which could easily be the office of a small and slightly old fashioned company (maybe like the one in the recent Departures (Okiribito) , the director wisely refrains from taking any stand on the nature of the after world, more than to express his conviction, or at least premonition that death is not extinction.

A profound meditation on the brevity of life. The conspicuously this-worldly nature of the setting chosen serves as a powerful metaphor for the unknown. It is as though the artist is conveying " I have no way of knowing what lies beyond nor are the details important. What is important is that death is certain, a fact we mostly overlook, consequently failing to value life enough and to live fully." Ikiru is another Japanese film that expresses how the awareness of death imparts meaning and momentum to life.
Ebert's review


Literary Dreamer said...

Got Ikiru for my birthday, but haven't watched it yet (shocking, right?). Will be watching more of Kore-eda's work, especially since Nobody Knows was one of the best movies I've seen in the last ten years.

I would also add "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" to your list, even though it's a book, not a Japanese movie.

S M Rana said...

Death of Ivan Ilyich has been an old favourite and yes, short enough to be re-visited, at least for the prose style of a master who believes in tonners.

litdreamer said...

Have since watched Ikiru and this film. Isn't it interesting how both movies (great movies, btw) convey the meaning of life in such different ways, and in such different films? One finds meaning in the decisions we make, whereas the other one finds meaning in the memories we leave behind. One is bold and full of life, whereas the other is muted and somber.