Archive for October 10th, 2012

Afterlife (1998)

Set in a purgatory limbo that looks an awful lot like an old brick school on a perfect autumn day, guides assist the newly dead in selecting the most treasured memory they had in their life. They describe the memory to the staff who work with a crew to film it and screen it at week’s end; after which they cross over to the other side. 22 dead arrive that week, assigned to three counselors and a trainee. One old man cannot find a memory, so he watches videotape of his life. Others pick their memory quickly, and the film crew gets right to work. The trainee guide, 18-year-old Shiori, helps a teenage girl choose a memory other than Disneyland. The youthful staff have secrets and feelings, too, which play out, especially Shiori’s affection for her mentor, Mochizuki. Meanwhile, the staff gather to discuss various cases, especially those in danger of never recovering a truly joyous memory.

Afterlife is a movie about looking back on life which I found surprisingly touching. It is such an impressive piece of work. The first half of the movie is shot like a documentary with the second half becoming more of a drama. The first half consists of the dead talking straight to a camera and asked to elaborate on a memory by one of the guides which are all interesting to hear. Not all of the people you see doing this are actors, some are real people remembering real memories but of course we are never told which are which. The viewer also gets to see the setting up of a studio to diligently recreate the memory of the chosen person which is just like any other film set. The person gets the chance to be asked by the studio workers if everything is OK before filming takes place so that everything is perfect and satisfactory. Although glimpses of what they’ve recreated is shown, the actual finished filmed memory is never revealed. It’s up to us, the viewer to imagine how they would look. The second half concentrates more on two of the guides Mochizuki and a difficult young woman Shiori who has fallen in love with him. Mochizuki’s memory of a lost love is linked to one of the dead people which affects him.

Director Hirokazu Koreeda who also made the excellent movie Maborosi chose to make limbo not like a white void which some of us may associate with the place but as a building which is run like any other office with disgruntled employees, daily meetings and some office politics going on. The dead are ushered after checking in at reception to confirm their name into a waiting room where their number is called out and they are taken to a room to where a guide explains that they are in fact dead and goes through the whole process of choosing a memory to take with them. I really enjoyed the interactions between the guides and the dead – the guides really seemed to care and listen intently about the stories from the dead. The remarkable quality of the acting from all of the cast is wonderful to see.

Overall, I loved this movie. It was a unique approach to death and what happens afterwards. It’s not for everybody though. It will definitely make you reflect on your own life so far and if you had one moment, one memory to take with you to the afterlife what would it be? Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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