When I started blogging about films and older women in 1999 I was determined to be as thorough in my research and detailed about my analyses in order to be considered more than an amateur reviewer.
At the age of 83 I find that over the years my determination has waned. Last month the “Brent U3A Old People in Film Group” showed Kore-eda’s After Life (1998). I had a DVD copy of the film. In 1999 searching for films about old women I had dismissed it on the grounds that it was not specifically about ageing women. Viewing this very complex film again I found that it deals with many themes. Reviewers tend to concentrate on one aspect or else make very general comments. All point out that it is difficult not to engage with the film.
It is the theme of memory that I want to explore. In the complex mesh of information I will forget for now the mise-en-scene, the editing, the narrative, the love story, the characterisation, the relationships and more importantly the links between memories and film making.
22 people are gathered between life and death in a anonymous, stark, official building. They have three days to choose only one memory to take with them into eternity. The memory will be recreated on film, viewed on screen before they pass on.
3 young men and a trainee woman aged 18 interview the people and facilitate the recall. An older man supervises the process.
By using men and women who died at different ages Kore-eda explores different aspects of our memories. By using facilitators and private interviews he deepens this exploration. Evening meetings of the helpers and their boss permit a sharing of observations and thoughts.
The following is an attempt at gathering some aspects of memory that the director includes in his exploration. Italics indicate quotations from the characters themselves.
Old age and memory : a very old woman seems to have chosen her memory while still alive. She lives in the present enjoying nature and taking with her the memory of cherry blossom.
Warnings about documents and memory: 71 tapes of recorded life are presented to a man who insists that he cannot possibly make a choice in an active but featureless life and needs evidence: they won’t match your memories exactly. Please use them for reference . Watch them as a way of bringing up the past.
The head comments at the staff meeting: that is interesting. Not many people have these documents.
How far back do we remember:
At a meeting the head informs the staff that typically memories go back to around 4 years old. A minority of people report remembering events as far back as under a year. I was 5/6 months lying naked on the futon after a bath. The supervisor also adds that some people remember the sense of security when they were in the womb. If you close your eyes immerse yourself in water, the memory of the sense of security of being inside your mother can help with anxiety and other conditions
What we remember and what we forget: Young woman: Amazing how you forget. You swear you’ll never do that again when labour starts…if that pain stayed with you forever there would be very few brothers and sisters in the world.
The bridge where I met my fiancé after the war. Unaware of people on the bridge. I did not see any of that . It was just the two of us.
What we wish to forget but cannot :
A young man choses a memory of himself at 5 years old in his dark secret hideaway filled with junk. I’ll be able to forget every thing else? is that true , you can forget? well then that really is heaven.
Confused memories : a dominant pink dress, and red shoes dominate a very confused disjointed narrative in different time frames: love of a brother, cafes, youth halls, dance halls, dance and songs, ice cream and chicken.
If I had to choose I would say my childhood
I was nine in the earthquake when we had to escape to the bamboo forest.
First day going to kindergarten on a bus
Father carrying me on his back and the smell of my father’s sweat and hair
Memory of Disney Land (dismissed later)
Head on mother’s lap cleaning my ears
Riding on the tram going to school. The feel of that breeze flowing past my whole body.
She had this little bell on her bag and whenever she walked the bell would ring ding ding. I was in the hall tying my shoes and I could hear the bell that she wore.
Even our sweat did not taste salty
In Disney world: the autumn was not too hot. I could taste the pancake.
The snow at my grandmother’s house, playing in the snow. Surrounded by silence, cold. I remember the sound.
At kindergarten the lunch and hot mojo tea . My tongue remembers it. The memory of a certain taste
Eat when it is still hot. I remember the woman who gave me hot rice pudding when I was ill.
The white washing drying in the breeze, I remember how my mother smelled then and the way my cheeks felt against her lap. She was so soft and warm.
I remember my father back when he was carrying me. It was so broad and firm and the smell of his sweat and how his hair tonic stank.
Sex : Two men did not stop talking sex for three days but then one choose a holiday with wife and the other the wedding day of daughter.
Fictionalising the memory: the prostitute talks about a client who unlike the others was conscious of her needs. He was kind to her and made her feel more than a woman selling sex. When it is shown that she has been lying, she replies: the truth is that he never turned up.
Personal and important public events
Some memories are linked with major public events, war and major earthquake.
Some of the contributions are more than just reminiscences and link memories with film making.
1- the emotionless man who needs a record of his whole life before deciding which memory he would choose.
2- The man who was so definite about his memory of all details of a very special Cesna flight that in the recreation of the event in the studio he behaves as a director.
3- the man on top of a cliff ready to jump but a train passing, a special blue light and a vision of his girlfriend’s and mother’s faces makes him change his mind.
4- the recollection of the man who went into great details about his war adventures. Precise details and a strong narrative, are akin to a scenario .
Finally the questioning young man who refuses to choose and will remain behind. Maybe film maker’s voice ?
One way of not choosing might be one way of taking responsibility.
Do dreams count as memory?
The whole set up is wrong because one makes the past for one’s own needs.
Say I construct the future I am making a film about it. As I imagine all kinds of situations, I think that what I create would feel more real than some memory.
In 1999 I was moved by the old woman gathering dead leaves, seeds, and little stones and displaying them on the table instead of talking about her memories. I did not understand the filming of the shower of cherry blossom. Now that I am often reviewing my past, and talking about my memories to my children, grandchildren, and great grandchild the whole film makes sense to me.
The film’s complex mise-en-scene, narrative, script, editing deserve to be analysed in order to appreciate its deep content: life and love, feelings, relationships,
and above all coming to terms with the past .
The moon is fascinating, its shape never changes yet it looks different depending on the angle of the light.