This unpretentious, endearing film is a modest triumph. Based on interviews with more than 500 people about the one memory they would choose to take with them to heaven, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-Eda has modeled a un... more »ique blend of documentary and fiction that addresses the vagaries of memory but also what it means to make films. After Life transpires in a sort of way station where the dead must select one memory to be re-created on film and taken on with them forever, relinquishing everything else. Over the span of a week, a dedicated group of caseworkers tease out self-deceptions as well as real epiphanies from 22 different lives. An old woman remembers reuniting with her husband on a crowded bridge after World War II; a man recollects the breeze felt on a tram ride the day before summer vacation; a successful man faces his own treachery. Remembering becomes a courageous act in the casual exposition of this lovely film. --Fionn Meade« less
You don't know about life--how can you ask about death?
Michael Steinberg | Rochester, NY USA | 06/13/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A masterfully humorous, compassionate, quiet and moving film by a Japanese director whose work has primarily been in documentaries. The premise is strange but thought-provoking: after death, you have to choose one memory to take with you into eternity; everything else will be forgotten. In a brilliant series of cuts the staff at a run-down, out-of-the-way establishment explain this to the weekly intake of their "clients"--people who have just died. They have three days to decide; then the staff, with summer-camp-like enthusiasm, stages tiny films that recreate the memories. On the last day of the week the films are shown, and the clients vanish, one by one, as they relive the memories that are projected.Kore-Eda worked with actors and scripts, actors telling the camera their own memories, and non-professionals; the marvellous cast mixes all three and it's impossible to tell which is which. A young girl wants to relive Splash Mountain, only to reconsider after a worker gently tells her that thirty others had made the same choice that year. A boastful roue explains that the memory of course has to be of sex--and then chooses something quite different. An old woman remembers dancing for her older brother's friends in a red dress, and shyly coaches the little girl who will play her in the memory film. And a seventy-year-old salaryman can find nothing worth remembering, so videotapes of his life are requisitioned--touching off what plot there is.There are no flashbacks and little overt drama, but as the clients look back at their lives the staff are drawn in, and the viewers, too, can't help but wonder what memory would be worth living with for ever. What glows from the placid surface of this extraordinary film is the wonder and mystery of everyday things, the tenuous but rich beauty of merely living. "After Life"-- the Japanese title is "Wonderful Life"--is only ostensibly about death; no film of recent years has been more life affirming."
The Most Compelling Question -- "What If...?"
Ace-of-Stars | Honolulu, Hawaii | 02/14/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"* It is extremely rare for me to grace a film release with the coveted ''Five Star'' for a review score, but let me state for the record that dispite this scoring system's limitation to only ''five'' stars, I give Koreeda Hirokazu's ''After Life'' (Japanese title: ''Wonderful Life'') ''Nine Stars!'' It is a film that should be seen and taken to heart, despite whatever theological or eschatological beliefs the viewer may have. (This was not designed as or intended to be a religious film ... if it causes the viewer to reflect more deeply upon their particular religious ideology or to meditate on spiritual matters that's not necessarily a bad thing, but film clearly addresses something else entirely.)
Inspired by experiences he witnessed in his own family life , Koreeda-san presents the viewer with an intriguing premise: After death, you are taken to a processing center (or ''Limbo,'' if you will) ... While there you are given a deadline of only three days to choose just one memory that you can take with you into eternity -- These memories are then reproduced on film and shown on screen inside a special movie theatre that also serves as the launching pad to take you to your ''final destination'' as you ''relive'' (view) your most cherished memory.
The ''Limbo'' situation, as portrayed in this film, is unnervingly esoteric and confusing, and yet it offers an amazingly refreshing break from the stereotypically pristine, anticeptic, sterile, ''impersonal'' visual representations of post-life scenarios we've all been force-fed throughout history (much like the skinny effeminate visual representations of Jesus) and presents us with a setting that actually exudes a feeling of warmth, comfort, compassion, and familiarity, despite the obviously near-ramshackled and uninspiring state of this particular transfer point.
Some viewers may be a little put-off by the slowness of the film's pace, but this is extremely necessary for the important character development that takes place. Granted, the film could have done better by providing us with fewer ''initiates'' going through this particular processing phase, so as to allow for even deeper character development; at the same time, however, processing such a large group of people at one time, as presented in the movie, as well as the number of ''interviewers,'' provides us with a smorgasbord of personalities and motivations which highlights the vast differences and uniquenesses of the characters on screen and gives us added motivation to reflect on our own differences and uniquenesses, as well as how we act and interact with one other. (The final scene with Arata-san's character, ''Mochizuki,'' is especially touching.)
No, the film does not answer all of the questions it poses, nor does it really try to, nor do I think it should -- it is, for all intents and purposes, an examination into the human soul, if you will, and merely intends to have its viewers reflect on the more important questions raised and to motivate us into taking a long, deep, hard look at our very short lives and reflect on our most dear and cherished moments, and to not only ask ourselves ''which one'' memory would we choose to take with us and why, but to also ask ourselves if it could even be possible for us to select just one.
(For a deeper understanding of what Koreeda-san was trying to accomplish with this film, be sure to read the segment entitled ''Director's Statement'' on the DVD edition of the film.)
Inheriting the Mantle of Ingmar Bergman
Win Martin | Seattle, WA USA | 10/23/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Hirokazu Kore-Eda is becoming a kind of modern-day Ingmar Bergman. Between AFTER LIFE and MABAROSI, he's proven that he's interested in the kind of morality-driven stories that the late Swedish filmmaker specialized in. AFTER LIFE is a wonderful film, full of skilled acting and brilliant storytelling. This is one of those all-too-rare movies that brings about hours of contemplation and discussion afterwards, and is a movie that you'll be proud to recommend. It's also a very well-photographed film, and is infinitely improved by a DVD rather than VHS viewing. Even those who aren't fans of foreign films will find much to love here; the story is universal and truthful that it transcends language barriers."
One of the most thought provoking films I've ever seen
cristobal | New York, New York USA | 03/06/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you read the editorial review of the movie, you get the basic idea. However it just doesn't communicate the lyrical beauty and sweetness of the movie. I look at movies as just that, movies - not life altering experiences. To paraphrase Fran Liebowitz, "any place that sells JuJubees is not the home of high art." Not the case with this. It became the ultimate party/dinner/friend fodder. I mean really, given the one moment in your life where you could spend eternity, reliving it over and over again, which one would you choose? Much reflection, much looking at the past with different eyes. In this weird way, the movie actually *showed* me how to do it.The ending is beautiful and poignant. The credits rolled and I was sitting there, tears in my eyes, dumbfounded.This is not to say that the film doesn't have humor. It is, on top of the above, really, really charming. The acting is wonderful, the cast attractive in that wholesome Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland "Hey gang, let's put on a show!" kind of way (albeit a Japanese version), and it's clever. Totally worth your time and money. Hey, if you don't want to buy it right now, why not rent it? When you see how wonderful it is, you can come back here and spend some bucks."
Eternity on a tape
D. Sy | Toronto, ON | 09/06/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you could only choose one memory of your life to remember for all eternity, what would it be?That's the heart of this delicate film by Japanese director/writer Hirokazu Kore-eda. In the AFTER LIFE world, after death, people are sent to one of several waystations where they stay a week while deciding which memory to keep. This memory is then re-enacted and captured on film. At the week's end, the films are screened, and then the dead mysteriously move to the next stage of existence, within their single memory.We follow one week in the.... uh.... lives (whatever) of a group of caseworkers at one waystation, and the 22 souls that they work with during that week.Although (perhaps because) the premise of this film is fantastic and whimsical to the point of fragility, it is filmed mostly as a documentary (medium head shots of people talking and describing their favourite memories).Kore-eda's background is, in fact, as a TV documentarian. He interviewed hundreds of non-actors and filmed them. Ten of the 22 cases in the film (we are not told which) are people who were interviewed rather than actors reading from written parts.The caseworkers look like ordinary folks, as do the dead people, and the waystation looks like an old and dowdy college dorm. Very matter of fact.There is also an actual story that's woven through the film, which involves several of the caseworkers, and a few of their cases. It's so lovely, and so naturally told, that I don't wish to spoil it for anyone watching the film.The fascinating thing is that you can very easily distinguish and remember all the characters despite:- there being so many (25+)- the film being subtitled (and thus your attention partly split between reading and watching)- not recognizing a single person on screen (and thus, not being able to resort to the "yeah, the Tom Hanks guy" shortcut)- spending at least a minute interspersed through the film trying to figure out which memory of *your* life you'd choose- (if you're me) trying to figure out some more "rules" of the film's world as it's unfolding.My only criticism is that sometimes the actual photography is not polished. There are heads that get cut off in walking shots; all the non-static shots seem wobbly; lighting was somewhat uneven and the composition of shots (other than the static head shots) uneven. I hesitate to mention this since I'm sure most people don't notice this until it moves to the appallingly bad zone (which this film by no means reaches)."