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Original Title:
Wandafuru raifu

Japan 1998


Hirokazu Koreeda

Susumu Terajima
Erika Oda
Takashi Naito

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After Life

aka Wonderful Life

Story: 22 recently deceased persons enter some kind of after life, in which each of them has an advisor assigned to them. The five advisors, who divide the people among each other, tell the deceased that they have three days to choose their best or most moving experience. Namely that one they will take with them to eternity, while all other experiences in their previous life will be lost. At the end of the deadline the advisors want to reconstruct their choosen memory and help the dead to relive their memory in order to make it as present as possible in their mind.
Every person begins their own inner struggle to decide what their best experience in life has been. Some of them just can't make up their mind, or in some cases don't want to decide.
One of the advisors is Kawashima (Susumu Terajima) who has to find out that one of the deceased is connected with his own past through a woman they both knew. Some kind of love triangle arises, because the advisor Shiori (Erika Oda) also has feelings for Kawashima...

Review: The idea behind "After Life" is simple and yet brilliant. Which memory would we want to take with us into eternity, if we had to choose? It is unavoidable for the viewer to ask himself this quesion more than once while watching the movie. There aren't many movies that can motivate to self-reflect and there are even less that will let you recall your past life. That's what "After Life" is about: memories! How many of them did we collect in our life and yet we rarely take the time to recall them and relive our best moments...

Hirokazu Koreeda's image of the after life is simple and fascinating. An old building which resembles a school and in which each of the deceased gets a room for one week. And just this simplicity is what makes the movie so worthwhile to watch. With its simple shots in hand camera style, a grainy picture and messy cuts, you often have the feeling to watch a documentation instead of a movie. The narration also adds to this impression, for example when the deceased are interviewed about their life. Especially at the beginning there is a lot of switching between the different persons.

A deficit caused by this narration is that you're feeling an emotional distance to the events, just like it would be the case with a docu. Even though the actors are pretty good you can't identify yourself with anyone of them, and in fact you aren't supposed to. Furthermore, the pacing is often too slow and drags more than once. If you think of how nice it would have been to see some more of the individual memories, you have to ask yourself why the movie hasn't been packed a little bit more dense.

While speaking of the actors: "After Life" has some familiar faces, but at least as much unfamiliar ones. It's obvious that some of the deceased are played by complete amateurs, but that's in no way irritating as it even adds to the credibility of the movie. There are also some characters that you learn to love while hearing their life story, despite the emotional distance.

"After Life" lacks any form of abstractness as you would normally expect from a world after life. You most likely also won't find some difficult to understand metaphysical subtle messages. Koreda made sure to make a simple movie in all respects, and yet he succeeds making artistically appealing arthouse cinema.

Since "After Life" throws a lot of questions at its viewers, concerning the individual protagonists and their respective past, it is no wonder that there is more to the movie than the question which memory you would like to take with you into your after life.
Even so there are some inconsistencies or rather questions that are left unanswered. How can you get to a town to record some sounds for a special memory while you are the habitant of a world between this one and the next? Are the advisors some kind of ghosts? We know that they are dead, but why to they have to hold on their breath when going under water? Do ghosts really have to eat and drink? And why do the ghostly advisors only have amateurish resources for reconstructing memories? Maybe these questions aren't that important, but it flaws the overall picture.

"After Life" is a quite and documental movie about memories, death and the "paradise". The idea to choose for yourself which kind of paradise you want and just to be limited by your previous experiences and memories is great and nearly let's you instantly rush out the door to do something nice/memorable!
An innovative movie that demands from you do let yourself be sucked into it to fully aprecciate it, but which will give you in return some remarkable scenes that will be present in your head for quite a while.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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