Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

Following his impressive debut with Maborosi three years ago, 36-year-old Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda jumps straight to the head of the queue, as a major international talent with Afterlife. A slyly humorous, utterly original and generous-hearted tribute to the power of basic human attributes such as memory, love and forgiveness, the movie was a quiet hit at the Toronto Film Festival.
With no explanation, the movie opens with a small group of people apparently clocking in for work on a Monday morning at a grey, somewhat shabby, school-like complex in winter. Their superior tells them last week’s intake passed on successfully; this week there will be 22 people arriving. The newcomers, of all ages and social backgrounds, register at a front desk and are interviewed individually. Only then, in a casual aside, do we realise that everyone on screen is dead – and that the building is a transit station between life and eternity. Like applicants for night school, the newcomers are each told (in friendly but business-like fashion) they have until Wednesday to select one special memory from their lives. It will then be reconstructed from their description, filmed in a makeshift studio, screened for their approval on Saturday and given to them to carry into their afterlife….
Using almost no music, and shooting in a style that varies between immaculately framed compositions and a looser, near documentary style, Koreeda has created a movie whose texture grows slowly, like layers of paint. Much of the film’s success is due to the casting – a mixture of actors and non-professionals – which builds into a memorable tableau of faces on which both experience and innocence are writ large. Equally breathtaking is the film’s basic concept, an apparently simple idea that gradually embraces not only the huge changes in post-war Japanese society but is also valid for the human experience as a whole.

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