…otherwise known as Wonderful Life in Japan. I shall firstly warn my readers that this post contains some spoilers, although I try not to expose the whole storyline.
So it was an uncanny night when I suddenly grew a bit of melancholy. I searched through the list of Japanese dramas in a free movie streaming website (PM me if you’d like to know its address), and out of randomness, I chose to watch this movie. After Life, released for the first time in the Toronto Film Festival in 1998, and in its home country in the following year.
The main storyline of this movie can be expressed in the following question: after you die, if you are asked to choose one memory during your lifetime that you’d like to preserve and memorise for eternity while forgetting the others, which one will that be? This movie follows the supposed afterlives of several counselling social workers, working for a somehow heavenly institution operating on a sort of intermediate state between life and afterlife. The main responsibility of these counsellors, Takashi, Shiori, Satoru, to name some, is to interview the recently deceased and ask them about the lifetime memory that they want to remember and live with in the higher existence. The chosen memories will then be recreated in short movies, which will be shown on the last day of the respective person in the institution, after which s/he will disappear to the next life. These counsellors themselves are those who have died but cannot or don’t want to choose the memory they want to preserve in the given period of seven earthly days due to some personal reasons.
In one particular interview, Takashi met Ichiro, a person who married Kyoko, Takashi’s fiancée, after he died during the World War II. This event leads him to search his and his fiancée’s past lives, with a help from Shiori. As Takashi recovers his lifetime happiness, deep jealousy grows in Shiori, who has secretly fallen in love to Takashi. She also fears Takashi will also disappear soon and consequently forget everything about her and the afterlife he has spent together with her and all the staffs of the institution after recovering his happiness. I shall stop right here and will just recommend my readers to watch the rest.
As an infrequent movie watcher, I can’t quantitatively rate this movie like what Ando-kun does with the movies he reviews in his blog. However, in my opinion this movie is a-OK. It has the main characteristic of Japanese dramas that makes me favour them rather than the South Korean counterparts: moderate emotional expressions. Emotion inarguably plays a big part in drama movies, but I despise the exaggeration of its expression. Japanese dramas are generally able to do this and thus preventing their characters from becoming, ironically, drama kings and queens. Another feature that I’d like to personally praise is their fashion styles. Takashi and Shiori are both shown as young adults with modern end-of-1990s fashion style, and as a person who grew up at the turn of the millennium, I fancy the style of that era. One negative side of this movie is that a big portion of it is used to portray the lives of the people interviewed, whereas little is known about the counsellors’ past lives. Takashi’s story itself is only discussed in the last half or even one third of the movie. Nevertheless, I think the idea of this movie is generally nice, and I like the family-friendly depiction of the after life, in which the after world is apparently not divided into heaven and hell. The smiles of the people, as they look back and recall the precious moments of their lives, when they were kids and safe near their parents, when they were teenagers in love, when they were old and calm with their families, are so realistic and irreplaceable.
To close this post, let’s go back to the question. Assuming I just died, if I were asked that particular question, which memory would I choose? Maybe the moments I met my family as well as some old and new friends while taking a leave home earlier this month. My effort to realise my dream is indeed the main story of my life, but those are the people important in my life, those that I have to sacrifice and physically leave behind, along with some parts of my security and happiness, for the pursuit of my career goal. The moments with them, however short, are ones that I wholeheartedly celebrate.