TIFF16 Review: After The Storm

“After the Storm” was screened at TIFF in September. Next week, it will be at BFI London FF and after that, the Chicago IFF. My review was first published on Asian American Press. I thank the editor for allowing me to post my review here on Ripple Effects.


Japanese auteur Koreeda Hirokazu graced the Toronto International Film Festival once again this year with his new feature, “After the Storm”. Since 1995, with his multiple award-winning feature “Maborosi”, Koreeda has been a staple at TIFF, which has screened every one of his feature films. His recent works are still fresh in many viewers’ minds, “Still Walking” (2008), “Like Father, Like Son” (2013), and “Our Little Sister” (2015).

With all the avant garde and experimental, new waves of filmmaking bursting out at film festivals every year, Koreeda’s traditional style of storytelling offers a fine balance and an affirming voice. His films focus on the contemporary Japanese family, bringing out themes arising from the individual and extending to the universal. Humanity is what Koreeda is interested in, and his treatment of human foibles and failures is kind and forgiving. “After the Storm” is no exception.

Ryota (Abe Hiroshi) used to be an award-winning author. But for years he has not produced any more works. Divorced from his wife Kyoko (Maki Yoko) and sorely missing his 9 year-old son Shingo (Yoshizawa Taiyo), Ryota is at the bottom of his life. Months behind in his child support payments, he is laden with debt, entrapped by a gambling habit that’s hard to kick. It runs in the family it seems, for his late father had also been a gambler. With his work at a detective agency, Ryota would try all means to squeeze extra cash out of his clients, including deception and even extortion.

Koreeda’s dealing of Ryota is gentle and sympathetic. While he may look unkempt, the six-foot-two actor Abe Hiroshi has his charm and charisma. We see the nasty side of Ryota as he slips into his mother’s cramped unit in a housing project, looking for anything of value he could lay his hands on for pawning. A moment later, Koreeda lets us have a glimpse too of the other side of Ryota, that of a son to an ageing mother Yoshiko (Kiki Kilin). The mother-son portrait is witty and tactful, punctuated with heartwarming humour. It is a reunion of the two actors, also as mother and son, from Koreeda’s 2008 feature film “Still Walking”.

Mother knows best, even when your son doesn’t live with you any more. Deep in her heart, Yoshiko wishes to see her son reunite with her daughter-in-law Kyoko whom she is very fond of. She also treasures the affectionate bonding with grandson Shingo. If only they could get back together as a family, that would be a big relief and comfort, growing old can then be much bearable.

One evening, a passing storm keeps them together in Yoshiko’s home for the night. The impromptu reunion, though awkward, is probably gratifying for every one of them. Koreeda is, alas, a realist. Life is full of disappointments. However close they have come to bonding once again, the moment is short-lived. But the reminiscence and dynamics of the small family’s once intimate relationship regurgitates enough to spark off a renewal for Ryota. While they may continue on with their own separate ways, a new perspective has subtly wiggled in. Perhaps, there’s hope after all. The young, green grass covered with raindrops the morning after the storm is a refreshing metaphor.


The film was shot in the housing project where Koreeda had spent his youthful years. That was where his mother lived after his father had passed away. In the Q & A session, Koreeda admitted that certain incidents in the film did happen in the director’s own family. When writing the script though, once he has created his characters, Koreeda would let them run free and so they would develop themselves. Their stories just came out naturally.

Answering questions in Japanese with a translator beside him, Koreeda humbly thanked his Toronto audience, whom he had in mind when he made his films, as TIFF had screened every one of his features. He noted that as we grew older, we had to deal with disappointments, for life often didn’t turn out to be what we’d like to see. “After the Storm” shows us that Koreeda has dealt with his characters’ life disappointments with a forbearing spirit. As for viewers of his films, Koreeda does not disappoint.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples


Other reviews of Koreeda films on Ripple Effects:

Our Little Sister: A Respite from Summer Superhero Movies

Like Father, Like Son: Parent and Child Reunion 

A Quiet Passion at TIFF16

“A Quiet Passion” is a biopic of the reclusive 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson. It is written and directed by the esteemed English auteur Terence Davies, who brought us the adaptation of Edith Wharton’s novel “The House of Mirth” in 2000, “The Deep Blue Sea” based on Terence Rattigan’s play in 2011, and last year’s “Sunset Song”, a beautiful cinematic rendition of Scottish writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s work.

Literary filmmaking is Davies’ repertoire. If a movie is about a poet, under his helm, it is only natural that it would be crafted like poetry. In this sense, “A Quiet Passion” is a fine example. Every frame is meticulously composed and lit, the atmosphere dense with meaning. We also hear lines from Dickinson’s poems read out as voiceover. We experience poetry in sight and sound.

However, not all poetry is of the Romantics, roaming vales and hills, dancing with the daffodils. Davies’s Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon) is confined in her father Edward’s (Keith Carradine) Amherst house. Her main human interactions are with her immediate family, a stern father, a depressed mother (Emily Norcross), an attorney brother Austin (Duncan Duff), and her younger sister (Jennifer Ehle). If she ever felt claustrophobic, there’s her sister-in-law Susan Gilbert (Jodhi May) and her close friend Vryling Buffam (Catherine Bailey). Too narrow a social circle? Not really, for they are all responsible for sharpening her views and words. And they make a wonderful cast.


Terence Davies, Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, Jodhi May, Catherine Bailey
Under the direction of Davies, Cynthia Nixon (of ‘Sex and the City’ fame) portrays Emily Dickinson with an austere persona restrained by social mores and troubled by unrequited romantic pursuit. She might have been a rebel with a just cause in confronting restrictive societal norms, but I was surprised to see Dickinson here as a verbal combatant, a bitter and belligerent soul. Somehow from my limited reading of her poetry, that image has not set in my mind.

“A Quiet Passion” is a mixed bag of oxymoron. In an austere setting, characters deliver ornate speeches like you only hear in a stage play. Shrouded in a confining milieu, you hear comedic exchanges and humorous, deadpan facial expressions, even LOL moments. While the cinematography is meditative and calm (as in Davies’ last work “Sunset Song”), the feeling evoked is unsettling anticipation.

Emily’s supportive and devoted sister Lavinia (Vinnie), well played by Jennifer Ehle (of Elizabeth Bennet fame), gives me a breath of fresh air, for often she is the quiet passion supporting the poet, a gentle strength and a moral compass. Vinnie is the pragmatic and rational voice, like reminding Emily that Rev. Wadsworth—on whom Emily has a romantic crush—is a married man. But she is ever so sweet and pleasant as Jennifer Ehle is, even when admonishing.

The sisterhood between Nixon’s Emily and Ehle’s Vinnie makes me think of another literary sisterhood, that of Jane and Cassandra Austen. But what a difference. I long for Jane’s joie de vivre, something that’s missing here in this relatively harsh portrayal of Emily Dickinson. Further, I couldn’t help but compare this film with another that’s also about a poet: Jane Campion’s “Bright Star” (2009), a beautiful cinematic rendering of the English Romantic poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and his muse Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish).

The last scenes are as severe as they are heart breaking. Death may be a frequent motif in Dickinson’s poetry, as Emily had experienced the passing of her parents, but the constant pounding of her own illness makes me think of another oxymoron: superfluous suffering. The repeated scenes of seizures Emily goes through in the last section of the film may be a bit too much to watch for some, although Nixon has certainly given us a true-to-life performance. I can’t imagine all the takes she had to repeat, acting out those excruciating seizures on her bed.

When asked about the seizures in the Q & A after, Nixon replied that she had not done any research or specifically prepared; she just went ahead and did it. All the research had been done by Davies. He had read up on volumes of Dickinson’s biographies for the film.

What “A Quiet Passion” has done for me is stirring up my curiosity in finding out what Emily Dickinson the person was really like, and, I want to delve into more of her poetry. I have to remind myself though that the cinematic portrayal here is only Davies’ own interpretation and personal response to her poetry. I just like to explore on my own.

~ ~ ~ Ripples




Establishing Shot

What is a film buff, avid birder, and nature lover going to do in Toronto during TIFF, torn between so many attractions?

Well, one has to stay grounded first. So here’s the establishing shot. Indeed, it’s Toronto. And a memorable date it was when I took this photo of the early morning cityscape. My computer told me it was Sept. 11, 2016, at 6:38 am:


I was fortunate to be able to shoot these pics from a high-rise building with magnificent views. Here let me call this one Urban Canadian Sunrise. Yes, see the flag in the foreground? Can’t say it’s just another city:


And from the balcony above looking down, my birding instinct was gratified as I made my first sighting of a Mute Swan taking in the early morning air:


A stone-throw away was a park where I made this other first-time encounter. I had no clue what it was until I looked it up in a bird book after I’d come back home:

Juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron

Know what it is? A Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron.

Several other first time sightings awaited me as I went on the ‘Marshwalk’ at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, 57 km (35 mi) southwest of Toronto a few days later. The Great Egret and some juvenile (brownish colour) mute swans:



Yes, TIFF16 was a cinephile fantasy. And the people there were overflowing with enthusiasm to make your visit memorable:


More posts coming up on that main event.

Literary TIFF

The Toronto International Film Festival (Sept. 8 – 18) is just a week away. While many movie fans will be charging up their cell phones to catch some pics or selfies with the stars on the red carpet, Arti here at the Pond is interested in spotting the film adaptations of books, or those with literary interest.

This is a photo of the Toronto skyline from Lake Ontario on a hazy morning. Arti took the pic during TIFF14 two years ago. Yes, she’s heading there soon for TIFF16. So stay tuned for future posts.

Hazy Toronto Morning

Here’s a list of some literary titles at TIFF16:

A Quiet Passion 

Not based on a book but no short of literary interest. This is a cinematic biopic of the American poet Emily Dickinson. What’s more, it’s a new film written and directed by the venerable English auteur Terence Davis, who brought us such acclaimed works as Sunset Song (2015), The Deep Blue Sea (2011), and The House of Mirth (2000). Cynthia Nixon plays Emily Dickinson, with Jennifer Ehle as her sister Vinnie. Yes, that Jennifer Ehle. Love to see her in another period role but I know, hard to be rid of the Lizzy Bennet image.

American Pastoral 

Philip Roth actually has two movie adaptations of his books coming out this fall. One is Indignation (2008). The other is American Pastoral (1997), which won him a Pulitzer and was considered a seminal work in his oeuvre. Roth later won the Man Booker International Prize in 2011. The prolific author has long been regarded as the astute depicter of the 20th C. Northeastern Jewish-American psyche. Interesting fact of this adaptation is that it’s the directorial debut of Scottish actor Ewan McGregor, who will also take up the role of Roth’s famous character Seymour ‘Swede’ Levov. How well can he pull it off? Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Connelly co-star.


Based on three short stories by Alice Munro, Canada’s first Nobel Laureate in Literature (2013). Juliet is the protagonist of “Chance”, “Soon”, and “Silence”,  from Munro’s 2004 volume Runaway. So why the name Julieta? Well, these stories are being transported from a Canadian setting into Spain. The film is helmed by director Pedro Almodóvar, who is described as “the most internationally acclaimed Spanish filmmaker since Luis Buñuel” (IMDb). Almodóvar won an Oscar for his writing/original screenplay with “Talk To Her” (2002). Hopefully this adaptation is worthy of Munro’s source material. I’m curious to see how a totally Canadian story is transplanted into a Euro-Spanish milieu.


Certain Women

Another film adaptation based on short stories, this one by author Maile Meloy, from her book Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It (2009). The adaptation tells the story of three women and boasts a high calibre cast with Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, and Laura Dern. It is helmed by Kelly Reichardt who had directed Michelle Williams in Wendy and Lucy (2008) to critical acclaims. Last I read is that some elements of the stories had been altered to appeal to a contemporary audience.



This 2016 Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or nominee explores an interesting concept: A bus driver by day, a poet by night in Paterson, New Jersey. Can’t find a better named actor than Adam Driver to take up this unique dual occupational role. Writer/director Jim Jarmusch takes the helm. No stranger to Cannes, Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers (2005, remember Bill Murray?) won the Cannes Grand Prize of the Jury in 2005. The director’s versatility has brought us very different kinds of works throughout his career.


The Salesman

Since the 1990’s, several Iranian film directors have gained high praises internationally for their cinematic works. The recent death of Abbas Kiarostami is a loss on a grand scale for film art. Another distinctive figure is his younger friend and compatriot Asghar Farhadi, whose A Separation is the first Iranian film to win an Oscar (Best Foreign Language Film, 2012). After that Farhadi crafted another multiple-award-winner The Past (2013). This year he brings us The Salesman. The name is a big hint of its literary affiliation. The story is about the disintegration of a marriage as a couple perform Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman as Willy and Linda Loman. Life imitates art, or vice versa? Farhadi is a master of probing conflicts in domestic relationships. At Cannes earlier this year, The Salesman won Farhadi the Best Screenplay and Shahab Hosseini the Best Actor award.

The Secret Scripture 

After a long wait, and a change in the cast, the film adaptation of Irish writer Sebastian Barry’s Booker shortlisted work is finally completed. In the book, the narrator is a 100 year-old mental hospital patient recalling her life. The old and her younger self are played by Vanessa Redgrave and Rooney Mara respectively. The director is Jim Sheridan, the six-times Oscar nominee who introduced us to Daniel Day-Lewis with the excellent productions of My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown (1989) and later In the Name of the Father (1993).



Born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1935 and after her marriage became a Canadian citizen in 1971, Carol Shields received honours from both countries and internationally as well. The Stone Diaries won the Pulitzer in 1993, among many other accolades, while Unless (2002) was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Here’s the intriguing tale of Unless: a mother one day finds her runaway daughter living on the street and mute. Oscar nominated Catherine Keener plays the mother Reta Winter. Downton Abbey fans should note, Mr. Bates Brendan Coyle also stars.