After Life, a 1998 film by Japanese director Koreeda, is set in a large, shabby building, perhaps a social services institution, where the souls of people who died that week are processed before moving on to the hereafter.
A group of the newly dead of various ages checks in each Monday. The employees of the institution explain that they have until Wednesday to choose a single memory from their lives to take with them into eternity.
Since there are twenty two dead people being interviewed by the staff, the first half of the film can be a bit confusing. It is hard to know what you are supposed to be paying attention to, not unlike the first half of life itself.
It is easy to become impatient with the contrived premise of the film (who would set up an after life like that?) or, alternatively, to become so enthralled by the concept (“What memory would I choose?”) . Either way, you might think that you don’t really need to finish all two hours of the film.
If you stick with it, however, you slowly realize the crux of the film is not the dead people and their choices at all, but rather the relationship between two of the staff members who, belatedly, are figuring out for themselves what really matters.
This movie raises important questions about the meaning of life, the least of which is “what is your single defining memory?” It offers it own answers for some of those questions, answers that felt profoundly true to me.
I wanted to discuss this movie with everyone I care about.