The film, and the films within the film, are like a dream with a message about savoring existence: Learn to love in life, or risk leaving it without leaving an impression.
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He never indulges in schmaltz or melodrama, as most American filmmakers do when approaching this theme -- think of "It's a Wonderful Life" or the awful "When Dreams May Come" -- but delivers a delicate meditation rich with emotion.
The memories recalled here aren't epic tales, just moments that make life worth living. Like seeing a good movie. [12 May 1999, p.44]
Even had it possessed a less intelligent script, After Life would have been intriguing on the basis of its central conceit alone. However, with Kore-eda's skillful hand behind both the camera and the pen, the result is a rewarding cinematic experience.
At first, it seems stagy and slow and even to verge on the pretentious, but the film steadily accumulates dramatic power as its carefully sketched characters reveal their internal lives. By its end, After Life has developed into one of those haunting movies whose scenes can pop back into your consciousness hours or days after you have seen it. [12 May 1999, p.56]
Though it comes across as labored in spots, it also yields a good many beautiful and suggestive moments, and an overall film experience of striking originality.
The simplicity and poignancy of the choices — riding a bus, swinging on a swing — and the great variety of interviewees result in a film of nonsticky freshness, as well as unforced profundity.
Contemplative, though riddled with humor, After Life reveals itself gradually.
Kore-eda, with this film and the 1997 masterpiece "Maborosi," has earned the right to be considered with Kurosawa, Bergman and other great humanists of the cinema. His films embrace the mystery of life, and encourage us to think about why we are here, and what makes us truly happy.
After Life becomes a quiet, extraordinarily moving and sometimes funny meditation on the meaning and value of life. It intimates that whatever happiness we may find in life comes from within and is self-created.