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After Life (1999)

"Before viewing" talks introduce the film without spoilers. Watch it, then click on the "After viewing" talk for more. More»» by Randy Heffner

Imaginative, compassionate, and perceptive, Kore-eda Hirokazu’s After Life creates a crucible of sorts to distill a person’s life down to its essence — or at least its essence as seen by the person. The film puts a wide range of characters in its crucible, giving it a kaleidoscopic landscape of lives and memories to explore.

The workers are all dedicated and attentive at the place where people visit just after they die. For the week that the visitors are there before they move on, the workers help them with the one task that each visitor has: Select one memory from any part of their life. The workers will reenact and film it for them. It’s the one and only thing a visitor takes with them as they go, and the process of deciding can be emotional for the workers as well as the visitors. Running time: 118 min.

The first and major question After Life asks is clear from the introduction above: What would be the one memory that you would choose? But that’s merely the start of it. In Kore-eda’s exploration, we travel through pain and simple joys, through arrogance and beauty, through pursuit of fun and debasement, through tender and neglected relationships — asking what significance we find in life and why. What do we see when we open our eyes? When we close them? What do we love? What do we use? In each day, what do we seek, thinking our lives will be the better for it? And how do our answers form how we would choose that one memory?

The unique and varied situations of each visitor, the dialog between workers and visitors and between workers themselves, the issues the visitors face, and the unfolding of the week are all intimately crafted. This is a strong accomplishment: Given the film’s concept, it might well have been executed in a didactic, even preachy way. Instead, each visitor is treated with dignity and respect. In Kore-eda’s pacing of the film, we have time to get to know them. Some might think the pacing slow, but what can be taken as slow is, viewed from the other side, easy and measured, unhurried and contemplative, and masterful in its reflectiveness. Don’t get me wrong: plenty happens in the film, yet there’s also plenty of time to watch, to feel, and to process — the pacing is luscious, actually. The performances are strong, and the setting — a non-descript building or two on grounds that are nice but not fancy — sets a tone and context that dissociates the film from any preconceived notions that its concept might give rise to.

After Life is all around very much worth the time — as much for the goodness of getting to know the 20 or so visitors as for the depth and quality of the film's exploration of the human condition.

In After Life, one or two of the visitors talk much about sex, but there is little or no other content to note. Some viewers with strong religious convictions might be troubled by the basic premise of the film's location and some of the dialogue around it.

  • Director: Kore-eda Hirokazu
  • Screenplay: Kore-eda Hirokazu
  • Leads: Arata Iura, Erika Oda, Susumu Terajima, Takashi Naitô
  • Cinematography: Masayoshi Sukita, Yutaka Yamasaki
  • Music: Yasuhiro Kasamatsu

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"After viewing" talks assume that you have seen the film. They will contain spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

Kore-eda’s intimate observation and deliberate pacing in After Life draw me beyond its central notion (choosing a single memory) and into a longing to be more often fully present in all the

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Screenshots and dialog copyright © 1999 by the filmmakers.

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