After My Homecoming (Japan, 2020) [SDAFF 2020]

Acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda directs the first episode, After My Homecoming, of an eight-part Japanese television series, Kasumi Arimura’s Filming Break (2020). Working for the first time with a script not penned by himself, it is the second time he has directed for television after his similarly titled and themed Going My Home (2012).

Television seems to temper Koreeda’s cinematic concern of persistent disillusionments and traumas within a birth family. His feature films continually portray home and close blood relations as contentious and distressing. His characters, either by circumstance or willingly, separate and go on to create their own versions of calming and fulfilling domesticity.

The medium of the small screen though, brings a surprising softer side to Koreeda. His sprawling 10-episode debut Going My Home unfolds in the aftermath of an old father falling ill and his estranged family contending with this disagreeable re-arrival into their lives. Koreeda is less doubtful and not as incendiary. His characters are less pricked by their pasts, having come to some kind of resigned acceptance of what has been, has been. Jun Fubuki’s Yumiko in After My Homecoming is such a character. Her actress daughter Kasumi Arimura (coincidently name of the actress playing the character) unexpectedly makes a rare visit when she gets a day off from her shoot schedule. Yumiko is surprised but happy to see her. Leisurely walking home from the train station, grocery shopping on the way, their banter is polite in tone, but stinging, as Kasumi constantly jibes at her mother. A broken mother-daughter relationship becomes evident even though Kasumi and Yumiko are both mature enough to let go with a laugh or a curt, softly-spoken riposte. Yumiko is evidently fatigued to the bone by her tumultuous past marriage and its repercussions that Kasumi will suddenly get to know of later. She wisely knows she is at that stage in life when she ought to make bridges with the people she often meets in town, rather than burn them and be alone. Aware of the frailties of old age that at times call for help for her everyday chores, Yumiko has welcomed Makoto (Shinnosuke Mitsushima), a son-like figure, into her life.

Kasumi’s world of easy hostility and deliberate, resentful distance with her mother collapses when she is coolly informed of Makoto’s identity. Wrestling with her rage quietly, as Yumiko and Makoto seem to bond easily, Kasumi realizes her complete childhood family experiences have come to be questioned. Reasons for her severe rift with her mother are never clearly laid out. Writer Sakura Higa, unlike Koreeda, offers no substantial basis, making it difficult to empathise with Kasumi’s perpetual bitterness. Yumiko’s probable regrets are a cryptic exposition in a teary and dignified scene that raise more questions about who Yumiko and Kasumi are. In trying to craft dialogue and dramatic arcs truly sharp and rightly economical, Higa misses significant points of connections at crucial discoveries. It becomes difficult to meaningfully extrapolate and comprehend these characters’ motivations in complete.

Scenes of making delicious food and eating together are from Koreeda’s scriptwriting textbook. But where Koreeda uses these set-ups as genuine reason for family to come together and wrestle with their deep discordances, Higa’s dialogues merely scratch the surface.

As Kasumi is forced to contend with Makoto’s ambiguous intentions, she is also compelled to see the past and present not from her own self-serving perspective. Kasumi realizes her mother has her own reasons for letting Makoto into her life. For the first time she begins to see her mother’s point of view, initiating a possibility of a renewed and more understanding a relationship with Yumiko.

After My Homecoming, like all of Koreeda’s work, is an actor’s world and the three lead actors are in assured form, delivering more than what the script gives them.

After My Homecoming is streaming as part of the San Diego Asian Film Festival which runs from October 23-31.