Kore-eda Hirokazu, writer and director;
New Yorker Films; 1.66:1;
Dolby Digital Japanese 2.0; English Subtitles.
Director Kore-eda brings a documentary feel to this allegorical, imaginative vision of the afterlife. The premise is deceptively simple: upon death each person spends three days in limbo, which looks more like an abandoned high school than any pearly gates. During your three-day tour you are given the task of selecting one memory from your life: the most important, meaningful moment you experienced on earth. Upon selection, you are transported to a heavenly place where you will spend eternity with that, and only that, memory.
The vast majority of the film is spent listening to people tell their stories, documentary style: actors stare into the eye of a camera and share their most intimate moment. Very typical of Japanese film, the characters seem to find the camera, rather than the camera moving around, searching after them. Characters frequently walk into an already still frame; Kore-eda is like a quarterback throwing a ball to a spot on the field rather than the receiver-and hoping his man gets there in time to make the catch.
There is no music, only live sound. Shooting on 16mm also adds to the gritty, realistic feel, a sharp contrast to the typical Hollywood approach to “other-worldly” stories (”Where Dreams May Come,” “Defending Your Life”). There is very little traditional narrative. What evolves is a story of the limbo employees, the people whose job it is to poke and prod the dead into revealing the best possible memory. Amazingly, the most revealing moments come not in the actual stories, but the reactions of the characters after they have exposed themselves. They look for approval-did I pick the right one? How do I compare to others? Have I lived an insignificant life?
The result is a strikingly intimate portrait of humanity. The only problem is you end up spending the whole movie looking at the pictures but lost in your own thoughts-thinking of your own life, and what memory you might choose.
Special Features: theatrical trailers, production notes, and a brief bio of the director which includes a filmography and a provocative “director’s statement.” Text only, the statement speaks of the dynamic nature of memory, and the idea that the way we recreate our moments may be as important as the moments themselves.