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After the Storm

30/04/2017

Marginal Revolution blogger Tyler Cowen posted a few weeks back that Japanese film After the Storm was the best movie he had seen this year and that it was a study in Japanese “complacency”. Complacency is on Cowen’s mind having this year published his latest book The Complacent Class on the decline of American restlessness, characterised by changes such as fewer people moving to different states within the USA in recent decades, and its impact on American dynamism. That book sits as yet unread on my beside table (to read it immediately when I read MR nearly every day would seem itself an act of complacency). Cowen film commendations are, however, nearly always well considered so last night I went to see After the Storm which didn’t disappoint.

Yes, the film is about complacency but nostalgia was the word that came to my mind. I wonder whether nostalgia is always tied to complacency and whether one can be complacent without being nostalgic. Our main character is middle aged man Ryota. He is, ostensibly, a novelist. Well he was. Having written a prize winning novel 15 years ago, he hasn’t written in years. Now he works as a private detective. It’s a tawdry business, most of his work involves tracing husbands or wives having extra marital affairs. What money he does make, he promptly gambles away. Ryota is also a father to a son, Shingo, aged somewhere between 10 and 12. Ryota sees Shingo just once a month whereby he annoys ex-wife Kyoto because he never pays the child support he owes. It is on one of these visits that the title narrative develops. Storm clouds are gathering in the city as newscasters warn that the 24th typhoon of the year is imminent when Ryota takes his son over to his grandmother’s place for dinner. He has now kept the boy out longer than Kyoto expected. She is then invited to Ryota’s mother’s apartment but the storm worsens and Kyoto decides to stay with the boy rather than taking him home late at night so they are all drawn together for the evening. Ryota has not moved on from his ex wife and still wishes to rekindle their relationship. She has taken another partner who she doesn’t seem to have strong affection for but is attracted to for pragmatic reasons (he is reliable, has a well paid job and can provide well for her and Shingo).

Kyoto has feelings for Ryota, we see her at one point glancing through one of his previous books on the shelf, and might still love him but that isn’t enough for her especially when she must take care of Shingo.

Ryota’s nostalgia is the strong narrative arc throughout the film. The film features moments of deep character reflection on relationships and life meaning.   Ryota is sort of stuck in nostalgia. His mother offers help when she tells him at one point that “you can’t find happiness until you let go of something”. Asked at one point during the film what he wanted to become as a child, Ryota says a public servant. When Ryota asks Shingo the same question, the boy gives the same answer. That probably tells you something about contemporary Japan though I do not know that country well so I will leave it for others to make that sort of deep analysis. The film is more than merely a study in Japanese complacency because the themes of loss and nostalgia are universal. These psychological traps hold us back from being who we want to be and accomplishing what we want whether writing that next great novel or something else. For these reasons, After the Storm is well worth a watch.

Here is the trailer.

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