#2: After Life

After Life (1998)

One Line Synopsis

A group of guides help their guests choose one memory to take with them after their deaths.

What Did You Miss?

It’s not surprising that the great films most will miss are sad, small budget, foreign dramas that are crafted with precision, passion, and love. While I am by no means, an expert (or lover) of Japanese films in general, this gem has just about everything you want from a truly memorable film watching experience.

Do not confuse this film with the supernatural thriller from 2009 After.Life starring Liam Neeson and Christina Ricci despite the similar titles

Sadly, this is one movie that you wouldn’t stumble over copies at Blockbuster (when it wasn’t bankrupt) or get recommended along aside every other choice your add to your Netflix queue. While I believe the film is available from Netflix on DVD, it is otherwise only available for purchase for about $30 bucks.

Director Hirokazu Koreeda does the masterful job of creating a realistic, graceful, understanding post-existence locale. The film takes a delicate matter of pondering what happens to people after they die. A cross-section of characters of all ages and types have to literally view their lives on film, relive their whole lives visually and select a moment that portrays its essence. The fallout from that choice is that they lose everything else. It is an ingenious premise that is adeptly portrayed like no other film that I have ever seen.

Recently, there was an article, I believe in Esquire, that asked why there were no good movies or scenes about heaven. They are always lame and cloudy. Hell is much more fun, apocalyptic, and worthy of a shoot-’em-up action flick. What kind of action would happen in a place that most people consider perfection? A place where there is supposedly no strife, bickering, or dealing with the minutiae of daily life. There may not even be days. How do you envision a place like this and more likely to make it dramatically intriguing? To me, filmmakers have portrayed heaven often when there are portraying characters dreams, worlds of alternate existence. A film like Inception or What Dreams May Come or The Matrix or Waking Life deal with it as alternate/subconscious dream states yet no matter what the darkness, fire and decay of hell seep in.

But for After Life, the threat is not there. This is a place of solace, understanding, and yet a burdensome task to those who are employed to assist in it. So to me, After Life is the most moving, realistic portrayal of the penultimate out-of-body experience, a film that truly makes you think and ponder what will be on your video hard drives when you make the next step.