After Life / Wandâfuru Raifu
d. Hirokazu Koreeda / Japan / 1998 / 118 mins
Viewed at: A3.03 @ UEA (Norwich, UK)

Still from After Life

Almost anything you’re likely to read about contemporary Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda will contain reference to the stylistic debt he owes to that most quintessential of Japanese directors, Yasujirō Ozu.

After Life, Koreeda’s second film, takes place in a processing centre for the recently deceased, where new arrivals must select a single memory from their life, which is then recreated on film. At the end of their week long stay the recently deceased watch their films, and during the screening they disappear into an undetermined state of existence, taking only that single memory with them into eternity.

Sure, the story doesn’t sound particularly Ozu-ish, but there are actually plenty of similarities between Koreeda’s film and that of the ‘most Japanese’ director of them all.

Take, for instance, the image at the top of this page, which borrows heavily from Ozu’s visual schemata. Ozu was known for creating frames which displayed both a compressed sense of perspective, and an intersection of horizontal and vertical lines, a method I recently discussed in relation to Ozu’s Tokyo Story.

Koreeda certainly employs a variety of techniques which can be traced back to Ozu, but what I find most interesting in After Life are the numerous points at which Koreeda seems to be paying a more subtle tribute to Ozu’s films.

After Life focuses on a single week in the processing centre, and when one particular man cannot decide on his favourite memory, he is given a pile of videotapes that contain his whole life. Whilst watching back moments from his past, interactions with his wife are presented in a particularly Ozu-esque manner:

Ozu-esque still from After Life

The fact that this made it seem almost as if the man was actually watching an Ozu film, got me thinking about the possible links between After Life and Ozu’s most well know film, Tokyo Story.

One of the characters in Tokyo Story – Noriko, played by Setsuko Hara – is a widow, whose husband died during the war (eight years ago) and who still hasn’t remarried, despite the urgings of her elderly in-laws (the film’s main characters).

In After Life, Ichiro – the man who cannot decide on a memory – is being counseled by Takashi who watches the man’s tapes and realises that the wife in question is actually his former fiancé. We soon find out that he has been working in this post-death processing station since he died during World War II.

It doesn’t seem outrageous to suggest that this particular narrative thread of After Life might have been a deliberate reference by Koreeda, an attempt to show what might have happened, had Noriko’s fiancé somehow encountered her eventual husband in the after life. Perhaps I’m clutching at straws, but it’s a curious thought nonetheless.

Equally curious though – and on a completely different bent – is the news that After Life was translated into an opera by Dutch composer Michel van der Aa in 2006. A semi-staged version of this rather intriguing contemporary opera adaptation will be performed at London’s Barbican Centre in May this year. Here’s a clip:

And here’s the trailer for Koreeda’s original film:

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