The widely hailed After the Storm has been described as a movie about a divorced father trying to reassemble his sundered family, but from where I sit, he’s not trying very hard.
Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) is a blocked novelist who has taken a job as a private detective to research his next book, but we quickly see that there is no next novel and that his job snapping photos of cheating husbands and wives is now his life.
Not a creative job, but it pays the bills, or should. When Ryota obtains evidence, he often finds he can make even more money via shakedown -- striking a new deal with the exposed spouse and being paid to turn the tables.
It’s a sleazy but effective way for Ryota to round up the 100,000 yen he needs to make his child-support payments, necessary to enable his monthly meetings with his son (Taiyo Yoshizawa). Gambling issues intervene -- he lives always with the fantasy that he can take money and double it.
It hasn’t happened yet, despite what we surmise are repeated attempts. His ex-wife Kyoko (Yoko Make) is understandably fed up and is prepared to block Ryota from her life, and from that of his son. Ryota’s response to this is to laugh off his gambling habit, and to spy on Kyoko -- hanging out in the parking lot of his son’s baseball games, eyeballing her new boyfriend.
After the Storm director Hirokazu Koreeda makes a bold bid here to find something redeeming in this wretched fellow, but it’s hard to stay emotionally engaged in Ryota’s struggle when he makes virtually no attempt to reform, or to even make an honest accounting of his shortcomings.
Never is this more apparent than when Ryota is forced to explain to his son to why he cannot live up to some of the most basic responsibilities of fatherhood. Sometimes, he says, you simply can’t be the man you want to be.
Even if that is true, it is most certainly not the kind of truth you pass on to your preteen son, who is looking to you for useful guidance. We are informed that there are mitigating circumstances, that he inherited this addiction from his father, but Ryota repels empathy. He's a detective who refuses to investigate his own life. (Follow this clue: You’re trying to come up with alimony payments at the dog track.) The more resonant characters are the women who put up with him -- particularly his mother (Kirin Kiki), whose mordant sense of humor is the shield she uses to protect herself from two generations of male disappointment.