There are many films referred to as ‘lifelike,’ as a positive attribute. This marvelous film – ironically about a post-mortem limbo world – is one of few that actually earns the term.
AFTER LIFE’s contents are well-summarized by many other reviewers here, so I’d rather point out a few other notable aspects of the film, rather than rehash previous comments.
Kore’eda’s roots were in documentary work, and a fascination with the kinds of stories that might unfold right before our eyes is one is strongly explored here, and in his other work. The same holds true for memory – specifically it’s instability, it’s idealistic qualities, and it’s romantic nature. This focus was – according to Kore’eda – actually inspired by the Alzheimers-related decline of his grandfather (a major personal influence and role-model) – and this interest was also powerfully explored in his earlier MABOROSI (grief and growing beyond grief), and DISTANCE (a real masterpiece, charting the shifts between grief, blame, redemption and forgiveness between individuals who survivied a cult terror attack).
In AFTER LIFE, the same themes are allowed to slowly unfold, with a slow and recollective quality that – to me – has always been riveting. The film is very quiet in its’ nature, so it may not be for everyone, but the drift towards naturalistic revelations is handled brilliantly here, leading to surprising moments of tenderness, and of dry and unexpected humor. This is a film in which nothing feels forced, but a gradually-coalescing story does emerge, and move along on its’ own hypnotic power.
There is yet another theme present here as well – the transformative magic of film as a creative medium. The varied memories of the recently departed are commemorated in/as short films, improvisationally staged, which – under Kore’eda’s guidance – is something of a love letter to film’s potential as something democratic, and something that could record the spontaneous history and magic within ‘ordinary’ lives.
Successful at many levels, all of which weave together with skill and subtlety, AFTER LIFE is one of my favorites from recent decades. I highly recommend.