Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Persistence of Memory

Memories don't really have a beginning, a middle and an end. They're more like vignetted sensations, impressions and paraphrases, where the most prominent detail might be sticky fingers from handling a bunch of wheat. If you could only live with one memory for all eternity, which would it be? That's the question Hirokazu Koreeda's "After Life" asks, while also showing us what makes something memorable.

The film begins simply. Somewhere in the Japanese countryside, the recently departed arrive at a place that's a bit like a halfway house. Here, they're told they must purge all of their memories save one, which they'll live with forever. They're paired with counselors who help them sift through their emotional filing cabinets and pick a defining moment. It'll then be recreated in a short film that the dead get to direct, star in and watch.

Among the newly deceased, there's always that one guy who keeps harping on about sex, only to settle on a modest, intimate memory that usually involves a loved one. Sex is a potent "in the now" experience, but upon reflection, it's everything around it that either gives it meaning or renders it meaningless. And the memory you live with forever has to have meaning.

The film also subtly argues that meaning can't be manufactured. When one teenage girl declares she'd like to reproduce Disney's Splash Mountain, her counselor Shiori points out its conformity. Many young girls choose that ride, it turns out. In the end, the teenager changes her mind and opts for that time when she rested her head on her mother's lap and smelled her perfume.

Most of the memories hardly require any dialogue because they're so personal and introspective. They capture feelings, ambiance, texture, the very thrill of living. One man chooses his daily childhood tram ride on his way to school, with a hot wind blowing through the first-seat window. Another wants to go relive the first time he flew a Cessna and the way the cotton-like clouds brushed past him so quickly. One senile lady is showered with falling cherry blossom flowers, since blooms are the only thing her child's mind delights in.  (...)

Meanwhile, the counselors are resolving their own issues in this purgatory, of sorts. They're here because they weren't able to decide on an ultimate memory. Until they can, they're forced to help others pick theirs.

by Olivia Colette, Chicago Sun Times |  Read more: