After Life (1998)

Genres - Fantasy  |   Sub-Genres - Heavenly Drama, Psychological Drama  |   Release Date - May 12, 1999 (USA)  |   Run Time - 119 min.  |   Countries - Japan  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Keith Phipps

A peculiar and uniquely moving examination of life after death, Hirokazu Kore-Eda's After Life dispenses with conventional notions of punishment and reward and offers instead a version of the hereafter dominated by reflection and contemplation, death as a moment in which to come to terms with all that's come before and move on. Kore-Eda turns what could have been a parlor game exercise -- the issue of choosing a memory to preserve for eternity -- into a profound examination of what matters most. That his afterlife counselors largely reserve judgment reveals the director's (and the project's) documentary roots, and that evenhandedness only enhances the meditative tone: If our heart isn't free to dwell where it likes in death, when can it be free? After Life also, almost incidentally, serves as a meditation on filmmaking, both as an activity and as a means of representing human experience. In re-creating the past, its characters employ the selectivity of the most detail-oriented director in a film whose gentle humor almost obscures the low-key profundities beneath it.