So I just watched Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After Life (original title: Wandâfuru raifu) and I was blown away.
There’s a great scene in Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s “Extras” where Gervais’ Andy Millman gets stuck in a conversation about “Japanese cinema” and has to try to pretend that he’s a fan. It’s a scene that plays on the cliché that being into foreign cinema is the calling card of any “serious” film buff. It also plays on the fact that being into foreign cinema can mean you’re a huge douche.
I don’t claim to be either a “serious” film buff or a huge douche. But I’m certainly not afraid of foreign films and some of my all time favorite movies have had subtitles. (Life is Beautiful, City of God, Y Tu Mamá También, Cinema Paradiso)
All that being said, however, it would be disingenuous to write this blog as if watching Japanese cinema was just part of my every day life. The truth is I’m far too lazy for that. There’s hundreds of great movies from all over the world I’ve never seen that are constantly recommended to me but I invariably end up putting on the Lord of the Rings extended edition behind the scenes documentaries instead.
But not today. Today I watched Kore-eda’s After Life. I’m currently in my last year at University and one of my seminars is a Literature and Film course. My assignment was to watch Koreeda’s film and deliver a ten minute presentation discussing its themes and cinematic choices.
I had never heard of the film and procrastinated as long as I could. Finally, when I couldn’t wait any longer, I opened it up on my computer and pressed play.
What a movie. All at once I was aware of and ashamed of all my silly assumptions about foreign films. I was riveted from the first minute.
The plot is essentially this:
People, newly dead, arrive in a halfway house between life and eternity. They are given three days to choose their favorite memory from their life. Once they’ve decided on their favorite memory a team who works at the halfway house reenacts the memory onto film and gives it to the person to take with them into eternity.
The film unfolds in a combination of scripted and real documentary style interviews with dozens of people of different ages and sexes who delve back into their pasts looking for their favorite memories.
One of the most amazing things about this film is how it takes the audience with it on its quest to find a favorite memory. So many of the stories in the film triggered memories from my own childhood, and long after the film ended I was still scrolling back through my past – mentally playing with the notion of picking a favorite and continually finding myself incapable of choosing just one.
So let me ask you – what is your favorite memory? If you could only take one memory with you into the uncertainty that is eternity what would it be?
Heres me trying to narrow it down:
I have a memory of waiting on Dumbarton Road for Andy Sprunger to bounce his basketball down to meet me. This happened hundreds of times and so I can still see it perfectly clearly.
I have a memory of hiding under the silver set decorations for Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames at church when I was a kid talking to the girl I liked. Everyone liked everyone else back then.
I can remember walking on The Great Wall
I can remember going to the Lord of the Rings exhibit at Casa Loma with Alison when we were so much younger. It was actually the first memory that came to mind when the movie talked about finding your “favorite”.
I can remember sitting beside my dad as the lights when down on opening night of “Fellowship of the Ring” in Burlington ten years ago.
I can remember seeing Coheed and Cambria’s epic four day Neverender concert in New York City.
I can remember being a kid on the beach in the Dominican Republic with my dad watching the sunrise.
I can remember the Blue Jays winning the world series.
I have so many good memories. My life has been blessed!