Sunday, May 03, 2009

Broadband Beat: Life examined in After Life

After Life asks questions of the characters in this cinematic meditation by Hirokazu Kore-eda and in turn we too light up our synapses of memory to answer such questions. Questions like: If you had to choose just one slice of life out of your entire life up to now, what would it be? Forgetting everything else, what one moment in your life would you choose to keep? Also, what is the afterlife? Beetlejuice played it for laughs and hilarious hijinks. After Life's sense of humor is at the other end of the spectrum; subtle, no special effects, just the wonder of a human life.

In this movie's perspective, the recently deceased arrive at a mundane waystation, an old, worn down building, where they are given a number and asked to take a seat in the waiting room until their number is called. When their number is up, they are directed to an office, almost bare, save for a large table and a few chairs. In this room, the dead meet with one or two caseworkers who ponder that person's files and then lay out for them the purgatorial task they must complete. Within the week, they are told, choose that one moment. Then the staff will attempt to recreate that scene onsite and film it. Once the deceased has seen the finished re-creation of that moment, that person will move on to the next stage. Where that next stage is, or what it is, or why it is, is never revealed, except to say that the deceased will forget all else and hold that one moment with them forever.

In small moments, we see the several characters look back and distill from their previous life that essential, defining moment. As in life, the dead argue and complain about, and then defend their past actions. But they also remember and reclaim with awareness what made them truly alive. To choose not to choose carries its' own consequences.

To some audiences, this may sound like what you and your bong buddies discussed in smoke-filled metaphysical circles. To others, these existential questions delight us in ways that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Memento did.

After Life (1998) Written, directed and edited by Hirokazu Kore-eda. Japanese language with English subtitles. Available on Netflix through the end of May.

Broadband Beat: A review of movies, TV shows and multimedia content streaming from a variety of websites. If you're a fan of Hulu, Netflix and other such entertainment portals, you know there are a myriad of choices. Plate Lunch picks out a choice few to review.

No comments: