Set in a purgatory limbo that looks an awful lot like an old brick school on a perfect autumn day. Guides assist the newly dead in selecting their most treasured memory, the one they will take with them to eternity. While some people have no trouble choosing, others agonise over the decision. A multitude of stories emerge, most of them gleaned from the hundreds of interviews Kore-eda conducted with ordinary citizens, some of whom appear in the film. Meanwhile, the staff gather to discuss various cases, especially those in danger of never recovering a truly joyous memory.
Cast & Credits
And so viewers join a group of counselors, long dead, as they work with the newly deceased to find their best memory. Each counselor is charged with several individuals, and they interview them one by one in order to root out what will make them most happy. As such, much of the film takes place in documentary-style interviews. We hear various stories from many individuals, diverse in ways from content to age range and era. However, there are a few unable to pin down anything anything at all. One man has never truly had a happy moment in his life, while another refuses to select anything despite ample material. Another young lady realizes times she thought were special were not quite as she remembered. What will happen to unfortunate people like these? There is also a mystery surrounding the counselors themselves… who are they and why were they chosen for this work?
Yet with such intense subject matter, After Life manages to be gentle and slyly humorous. It never reaches into your chest to tear out your heart, but delicately stirs that part of you which values sentimentality and fears death. What makes this film excellent is how carefully it explores these subjects: mortality and memory. It may induce laughter in you, perhaps it will leave a lump behind in your throat; but above all else, After Life will make you think long and hard. What would you choose?
Many familiar and veteran names grace the cast listing, such as Iura Arata, Terajima Susumu, and Iseya Yusuke. They stand out here as well, particularly the two counselors. However, the real stars are the memories and the people who share them. Many of the “interviews” were completely impromptu, and the people depicted are not actors, but real people reminiscing on film. Though it isn't clear which are scripted and which are authentic, they all leave great impact.
I always claim music is of paramount importance in both film and television. Despite this preference, it seems I've found an exception in After Life. This is a movie that does just fine without much of a soundtrack to recommend it. In fact, the silence lends realism, a solemn kind of respect and authenticity. There are no emotional cues for the audience, either…which is surprisingly nice for a change.
The point is not that this can be what we experience after death; It's more that we need to think more about what it is in this life that we would really like to keep with us forever.
This point needs emphasis. When asked what we want most in life, most of us will talk about our career, achievements, maybe something else. This movie suggests that these kinds of things can not, at the end of the day, be as important as some other experiences we might have. Either way, it challenges us to rethink what we really value.
Much of this film is dedicated to explorations of the lives of a number of fairly ordinary people, trying to identify their most cherished memories. Some critics have condemned the film as boring. It all depends on perspective. If all you want to see is car chases, sex, explosions, special effects ... Avoid this movie. It's just worth noting that the lives and thoughts of others can help us better understand ourselves, so I recommend the film.