After Life (film)

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After Life
Japanese film poster
Directed byHirokazu Kore-eda
Produced byMasayuki Akieda
Shiho Sato
Written byHirokazu Kore-eda
Erika Oda
Susumu Terajima
Sayaka Yoshino
Takashi Naito
Kei Tani
Music byYasuhiro Kasamatsu
CinematographyYutaka Yamazaki
Edited byHirokazu Kore-eda
Engine Film
TV Man Union
Distributed byEngine Film
TV Man Union[1]
Release date
11 September 1998 (Toronto Film Festival)[2]
17 April 1999 (Japan)
Running time
118 minutes
Box office$801,985[3]

After Life, known in Japan as Wonderful Life (ワンダフルライフ, Wandafuru Raifu), is a 1998 Japanese film edited, written, and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda starring Arata, Erika Oda and Susumu Terajima.[2] Premiered on 11 September 1998 at the 1998 Toronto International Film Festival and distributed in over 30 countries, the film brought international recognition to Kore-eda's work.[4]

The film was also shown at the 1998 San Sebastián International Film Festival, where it won the FIPRESCI prize "for its universal theme, its empathy for nostalgia and its homage to cinema as transcending life". The film received seven awards and eight nominations worldwide.[5]


A small, mid-20th century social-service-style structure is a way station between life and death. Every Monday, a group of recently deceased people check-in: the social workers in the lodge ask them to go back over their life and choose one single memory to take into the afterlife. They are given just a couple of days to identify their happiest memory, after which the workers design, stage and film them. In this way, the souls will be able to re-experience this moment for eternity, forgetting the rest of their life.

Twenty-two souls of different ages and backgrounds arrive and are received by the counsellors, who explain them their situation. Lengthy interviews take place in the lodge, with each person having different perspectives of their lives, some being more reluctant in indicating a significant memory.

The story pays most attention to the two younger counsellors, Takashi and Shiori. Takashi has been assigned to help an old man, Ichiro Watanabe, pick a significant memory in his ordinary life. Reviewing the videotapes of Mr Watanabe's life, Takashi discovers that the old man had married his former fiancée, Kyoko, after Takashi had been killed during World War II while he was 22. Takashi has Watanabe assigned to another counsellor but is still troubled by his memories, causing both him and Shiori to re-examine their lives.

Near the end of the week, Mr Watanabe decides which memory to keep. Takashi reveals to him that all the counsellors staying in the lodge are souls who refused or were unable to choose a memory. On Saturday, the hosted souls watch the films of their recreated memories in a screening room and, as soon as each person sees their own, they vanish.

Takashi, after talking Shiori about his life and watching his fiancée's selected memory from the archive, eventually decides to have his sliver of life filmed and abandon the way station forever.


Themes and techniques[edit]

Kore-eda conceived the film from a childhood experience he had with his grandfather, who suffered from a neurodegenerative disease in a time this kind of syndromes were yet not well known. Remembering his gradual loss of memory, which led him not to recognize the faces of his relatives and eventually his own, he commented that "I comprehended little of what I saw, but I remember thinking that people forgot everything when they died. I now understand how critical memories are to our identity, to a sense of self".[6]

In the development phase of the script, the director interviewed more than five hundred people from disparate social backgrounds, asking them to tell him about their memories and choose the single one they would keep. Kore-eda was "intrigued by how often people chose upsetting experiences". The film alternates real footage of these interviews with acting, some based on improvisation, some on a specific script;[6] the interviews were shot on 16 mm film stock by Yutaka Yamazaki, a recognized documentary cinematographer.[7] With this method, Kore-eda combined documentary with a fictional narrative.

In the film, memories themselves are altered by people when they recall them and are subjectively revised, enhanced and reinterpreted when they are staged and recreated.[8][9] About this ambiguous, fleeting nature of nature memory, Kore-eda reflects:

I saw that human emotions are the sparks that fly when "truth" and "fiction" collide. In this film, I wanted to explore the consequences of such collision by investigating the uncertain area between "objective record" and "recollection". Although the memories in After Life are presented as real experiences that are later reconstructed as film, you can't really distinguish the stories characters tell as "truth" and the recreations as "fiction". They intertwine with great complexity. Our memories are not fixed or static. They are dynamic, reflecting selves that are constantly changing. So the act of remembering, of looking back at the past, is by no means redundant or negative. Rather, it challenges us to evolve and mature.

For the memory sequences, shot both in colour and black and white on a mixture of 8 mm and 16 mm film, Kore-eda involved the still photographer Masayoshi Sukita (best known at the time for his work on the set of Mystery Train).[10]


After Life received positive reviews. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 86% based on 29 reviews, with an average rating of 7.21/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "After Life is an offbeat and tender exploration of memory, love, and life after death".[11] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 91 out of 100, based on 19 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[12]

On AllMovie, Keith Phipps talks about the film as "a peculiar and uniquely moving examination of life after death", observing how "almost incidentally [it] serves as a meditation on filmmaking".[13] "Its unhurried pace and lack of melodrama, like its subject, may linger in the memory long afterwards", adds Jonathan Crow in the same review.[9]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four stars, describing After Life as "a film that reaches out gently to the audience" and concluding that Kore-eda, with this and his previous film Maborosi, "has earned the right to be considered with Kurosawa, Bergman and other great humanists of the cinema".[14]


  1. ^ Churi, Maya (12 May 1999). "Interview: Hirokazu Kore-Eda remembers After Life". IndieWire. Park City, Utah: Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved 20 November 2017. iW: Who is distributing After Life in Japan? Kore-Eda: We are doing it ourselves.
  2. ^ a b Elley, Derek (21 September 1998). "After Life". Variety. Retrieved 6 August 2020.
  3. ^ "After Life (1999)". Box Office Mojo., Inc. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  4. ^ "Profile and works – Hirokazu Kore-eda". Retrieved 7 August 2020.
  5. ^ "After Life – Awards". IMDb. Retrieved 7 August 2020.
  6. ^ a b Kore-eda, Hirokazu. "After Life Press Kit". Director's statement. Retrieved 7 August 2020.
  7. ^ Ouellette, Kevin (8 August 2006). "Review: After Life". Eigapedia. Archived from the original on 12 March 2016. Retrieved 6 August 2020.
  8. ^ Kore-eda, Hirokazu. "After Life Press Kit". Director's statement. Retrieved 7 August 2020. Of course, as they tell real stories for the camera people inevitably fictionalize aspects of them, consciously or not, whether because of pride or misunderstanding.
  9. ^ a b Crow, Jonathan. "After Life – Synopsis". Allmovie. Retrieved 6 August 2020.
  10. ^ "After Life Press Kit". About the production. Retrieved 7 August 2020.
  11. ^ "Wandâfuru Raifu (After Life)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 6 August 2020.
  12. ^ "After Life". Metacritic. Retrieved 6 August 2020.
  13. ^ Philips, Keith. "After Life – Review". Allmovie. Retrieved 6 August 2020.
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (6 August 1999). "After Life – Movie review & film summary". Retrieved 6 August 2020.

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