A review of the award-winning Japanese film “After Life”

I only heard of this 1998 Japanese film some two decades after its release when I saw a play based on it performed at London’s National Theatre. Coincidentally, just a few months later, the film was shown as part of a Japanese season at the British Film Institute which is next door to the theatre so naturally I took the opportunity to see it.

Written, directed and edited by Hirokazu Kore-eda, it has a wonderful plot device: when people die, they find themselves in a kind of limbo where they have to chose their happiest memory which will then be reconstructed for them and be their sole/soul memory for the rest of eternity. The work explores what we remember and why and how we recall and reconstruct our memories. 

The film has a minimalist look: shot in black and white in one nondescript building, the whole operation – especially the recreation of the chosen memories – is low-key and amateurish. It looks like a documentary which is not surprising: Kore-eda started his career as a maker of television documentaries, some of the interviews are selected from more than 500 that he shot in development of the film, and even the fictional interviews are sometimes improvised.

It is a gentle and delightful work which nevertheless poses some existential questions.


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