Although within subsequent years he has continued to provide audiences with heartbreaking family dramas within Still Walking and Nobody Knows, nothing under Hirokazu Kore-eda’s own filmography has ever matched what he has provided in After Life – a deeply philosophical film about what happens the moment after one’s passing. Within subsequent years, Hirokazu Kore-eda has already proven himself to be one of the most thoughtful filmmakers working today and with After Life, it is easy to see where such roots have emerged. After Life represents a sort of cinema that rings close to every last one of my sensibilities – and it moves me deeply.
After Life never directly shows what is happening in heaven just yet, but rather it takes place in between the realms of the living and the dead by showing those who recently have passed away on earth now within an a waystation where those who have just entered have a single week in order to decide on a single memory for them to keep reliving for all of eternity. When someone decides on a single memory that they wish to keep, the staff works their best in order to film a representation of said memory so that by the time the week is over, those whose time have passed will live within that memory for all of time to come.
From the sound of the premise, it was clear already that Hirokazu Kore-eda knows where to put his own heart when it comes to a film like After Life. And knowing that this is only Hirokazu Kore-eda’s sophomore effort as a filmmaker, signs of promise for his career were sure to show because of the ingenuity which After Life inspires from start to finish from its own thoughtfulness. The ingenuity to this premise is something of its own kind, one that only Hirokazu Kore-eda could have brought to the screen, for it also brings the concept of the afterlife to a more universal perspective rather than having itself limited to a specific religious group. And within this openness, it only allows After Life to provide something philosophical along the way, adding more to the wonder of this film.
The moment in which I finished watching After Life, I had a moment to think to my own self about what I’ve done within my own life so far. I first watched After Life at a point of my life where I just never felt so much was worth the time I was spending and the moment I finished, I flashed back to a memory of myself when I moved to a new school. The initially discomforting experience which soon proved itself to be rewarding for I made many more friends along the way, a time I felt happy about what I had done – for I was reminded of the moment I felt Ieft an actual impact for someone else. I was thinking my hardest to find a time in my own life in which I ever truly had felt a sort of happiness that I was never going to experience again. Then I flashed back to more moments within my life: the moment I actually fell in love for my first time and eventually had a girlfriend, a vacation my parents surprised me with for my eleventh birthday, or a night I spent playing video games without rest in my youth – moments of happiness in my life, that I don’t know if I could find myself experiencing again. I thought to myself, what is that one moment in which I want to live within for all of time to come when my days on earth are over? As I was watching After Life, I was reminded so vividly of this happiness to that point, I could never choose one moment.
In After Life, every performance still manages to land successfully especially with the fact that these characters feel like actual people facing this sort of challenge themselves, and Kore-eda’s filmmaking style – one that almost resembles that of a documentary in its detailing of the process, adds more to the impact it leaves behind for one’s thought. We are watching events unfold with a fly-on-the-wall perspective (something that Kore-eda has mastered all throughout his filmography) and it also helps in leaving behind a certain thought coming to mind, that eventually these people whom we are watching could be us. Eventually, we will die and during moments before it ultimately comes to us, what we want to think our hardest to find is a moment in which we knew we were truly at our happiest. Being a pessimist, I was moved all the more to come back to what moments in my own life truly made me happier than most.
For all this time that has come by, After Life has still remained as affecting an experience for myself as it was on my first go. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s thoughtfulness is something that many other filmmakers do not carry, and within After Life, which is only his sophomore effort as a filmmaker, he has only shown that much more was set to come with the nature to his own work. When I watched these people try to find their own greatest happiness within their life, I was trying my hardest to find what was that one moment that I wanted to keep for all eternity. After Life not only provides a unique perspective in regards to the age-old question about what happens the moment after death, but it also feeds the mind all the more after a single viewing. Now to ask you, my own fellow readers, I would like to know: if you ever were faced with that choice, what is the one memory of your own life you had to keep for all of eternity?
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via New Yorker Films.
Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
Screenplay by Hirokazu Kore-eda
Produced by Masayuki Akieda, Shiho Sato
Starring Arata, Erika Oda, Susumu Terajima, Takashi Naito, Kei Tani
Release Year: 1998
Running Time: 118 minutes