Say you die and it turns out there actually is an afterlife, and when you arrive there you find yourself entering a rather grubby looking social services building of some sort, staffed by unfailingly polite but distinctly mortal-looking employees. And say that during an initial interview with one of these solicitous counselors, you’re told that the reason you’re there is that you must now choose from your life a moment you would be willing to carry with you through all eternity, some exceedingly pleasant and personally significant memory. Then once you choose it all other memories will be obliterated, leaving this special recollection as your sole companion through time without end. And say you were told that you had three days to decide.
This is the premise of Japanese writer-director Kore-eda Hirokazu’s new film, an allegorical fantasy which could so easily become sentimentally precious — and probably will in the already planned Hollywood remake — that one is grateful for its matter-of-fact approach, its unforced quality which gently eases us into a state of suspended disbelief.
The film begins in a documentary mode, a handheld camera bustling about a room as the workers prepare to greet a fresh batch of clients. The interviews are conducted talking-heads style, with scripted actors mixed in with real people reminiscing about their lives. Once the memories are chosen, the staff must hurriedly reconstruct them on video, mementos that look singularly unconvincing to us but are of great value to the newly dead.
Most people end up settling on something small but pure — a cool breeze on an especially hot day, a red dress worn as a girl, sitting on a park bench with a loved one, not saying anything. But some people present special problems, such as the old man who claims not to have lived a single memorable moment (after a while the viewer tends to agree) or the young punk who refuses to choose and thinks the whole concept sucks.
Kore-eda has made a wise and witty film, ingeniously executed but with the modest intent of reminding us that it can be the most ordinary things which make us feel how extraordinary it is to be alive.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.