After Life

by Student 070723

Something I find really interesting in the movie After Life, is how there's an emphasis on the importance of point of view. At first I thought the interviews were only necessary because there was no other way to learn of the individuals' selected memories, but later on in the film, it was revealed that each person in fact had video tapes corresponding to each year they lived. And these video tapes already contained all the moments that he could choose from.

It confused me somewhat. If in the first place there were already existing videos of the dead person's memories, then what was the need for a reconstruction in film? Couldn't the staff simply cut the chosen memory, maybe enhance the quality a bit, and then burn it to another tape? If that were the case, then there wouldn't even be a need for comprehensive interviews with the souls. The staff only had to know which part to cut, no detailed description included.

What was the reason then?

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I learned in general psychology class about something called 'constructive memory'. Not everything we remember actually happened. Sometimes, the brain creates false memories to explain events that have been suggested, or to replace parts of a memory that cannot be retrieved. One of the forerunners of cognitive psychology, Frederic Bartlett, even stated "that…memory appears to be far more decisively an affair of construction rather than one of mere reproduction". (Schacter and Addis, 2007)

But it is not only because of these constructive memories that nobody remembers the same event in quite the same way. I believe that as each of us is unique, so is reality as we experience it. In the instance of the woman who selected the memory of herself as a little girl, the event of her dancing in a red dress for her brother and his friends is an incontestable fact: it's what happened no matter who among them you ask. But the way that fact has been experienced and recalled by the people involved in it, is diverse. The woman remembers it her own way, and all the others in their own respective ways. The recollection, and more importantly, the meaning of that event is never the same for any two people. Reality is not limited to fact. And since everything else that constitutes reality is different for each individual, then reality is subjective.

That is probably why the staff of the soul waystation put importance on reconstructing the selected memory the way the person remembered it. The records of his life revealed nothing but the actual events, the facts. The meaning that made the particular memory a special one for that person, the reason why it was chosen above the rest, could only be captured if the event is reconstructed the way the person remembered it to have happened. Otherwise, it would be like looking at somebody else experience something familiar.

But, wait, wouldn't that be some kind of self-deception? If indeed parts of the memory were merely made up by their brains— and who knew, maybe the constructed parts were actually what made it special— then weren't those souls subjected to spend eternity in delusions?

Well, yes, I guess it can be seen like that. But then again, I think it would be hardly, if at all, possible to select a 'pure' memory (i.e., one that perfectly reproduces reality), which means that everything we can remember is tainted by 'delusion'. If that were so, then there's no helping it; all souls are fated to bring parts of their delusions with them to eternity.

Besides, would it still matter? Picking out which is 'true' and which is 'delusion' would only destroy the purpose of the staff's job. The point of reconstructing special memories in films for the souls to bring with them to eternity is to pinpoint a single moment of meaning in the lives they led. Mozichuki, for example, was only able to move on after he found out that he mattered to the fiancee he died without marrying. It gave his short life meaning, and with that knowledge, he could finally rest in eternity.

It is only this feeling of completeness which should matter.


SOURCES (for the constructive memory information):
Cognitive Science- Constructive Memory. University of Richmond. Retrieved March 21, 2009, from http://facultystaff.richmond.edu/~pli/teaching/psy333/psych_constructive.html
Schacter, D. L. & Addis, D. The cognitive neuroscience of constructive memory: remembering the past and imagining the future. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Retrieved March 21, 2009, from http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~dsweb/pdfs/07_05_DLS_DRA.pdf


AFTER LIFE — a look at memory and a critique on film as a medium of its reproduction
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In After Life (1998), Koreeda cherishes memory and, whether in appraisal or criticism, provides a discourse on the attempt of the film medium to reflect reality (or what once was reality) by its creation (or recreation) process.

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CINEMATOGRAPHY and PROXIMITY
To me, knowing that Koreeda Hirokazu makes documentaries, the film's method, particularly the cinematography is very interesting and not to mention, very telling about Koreeda's style in depicting memory or reality. During the interviews about what memories to pick and make into movies, the frame focuses on a talking headshot of the dead person being interviewed, so they are facing the viewer. This practically blurs the existence of Mochizuki, Shiori or whoever is interviewing the dead, making it as if the dead characters were talking to the viewer, telling them about the memory themselves without a harsh intervention of a medium or mediator.

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The viewer is put where the interviewer would be, putting the former in the place of the latter, where he is supposed to imagine for himself given the details that the interviewee says. The image on the frame (the talking headshot) is very limited, but its refusal to concretely represent the memory (no flashbacks!) makes it so powerful in that the viewer is given so much power as to imagine what really happened then. Like many Japanese horror filmmakers do (The Ring, The Grudge), Koreeda uses the power of limited (or non-)representation so that the recreation would not limit the richness of the 'real' experience:

"I've made it a rule never to show what someone is remembering… because you begin to participate in the atrophying of the viewer's imagination."

In using this style, Koreeda gives the viewer a very active viewing role. It does not only provide images for the viewer to feel and perceive but also involves the viewer in the image-making process. The end-product of the films made were not even shown. Koreeda's representation style refuses to limit the richness of the experience and the possibility for imagination.

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AS A REFLEXIVE FILM
The film is reflexive in that it shows the creation process: Shiori, Mochizuki and the others discuss the memories to be made into films and choose images to represent and 'recreate' the memories. The films were low-budget and filmed guerilla-style; the creation sequence may be read as a mockery of the very creation process, of the filmmaking process and how the representation is no good compared to the richness of the real.

This reading points to the same direction as Walter Bejamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction; Benjamin believes that art, with all the technology and after the assembly line (yah, it's kinda Marxist, WOOT!), can be reproduced easily and these 'copies', being alienated from the original copy, loses its "aura". (This "aura", as Ma'am Benilda Santos would explain to our lit class, can be understood as that feeling you get when you get close to an original copy, something unique and irreproduceable (i just invented a word).) Given this, the dead in After Life seem to be in eternal abomination, having with them only copies of their best memories, for eternity.

But despite this, the film does not fail to be endearing. Koreeda values memory in the film; it is important for the dead to pick a memory to make sense of the life they once lived (which means that Shiori just saved the integrity of the one girl's life by telling her that it might be a good idea to not pick the Disneyland experience). The film's representation of the recreation process is also very endearing; that they have to rock the tram and make soap bubble clouds as props is actually very cute. And when their memories are being made into films, the dead actually enjoyed it as they saw their now abstract and bygone memories into concrete and detailed experiences. I find this detail very important in trying to "unlock" what Koreeda MAY be saying about film as a medium that reproduces reality: film is a tribute to reality. It makes memories and realities into something concrete and something which one can enjoy, something to cherish reality by. But the medium of film is just something that can never make art to be in the same level of richness as the original experience.
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"SOURCES", or Stuff I Read Before Creating This Post, or Things You Might Want to Read to Know More about After Life :3
*Wikipedia Entry on After Life. — Though you probably would have already thought of wiki-ing it if you're interested in After Life, huh?
*The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction by Walter Benjamin. — Used for literary theory, but if you've read From Work to Text by Barthes, you'll have the confidence to apply it on anything. x3
*Filmreference — contains a pretty good analysis (that, you may notice, i do not agree completely with), a summary, and A LOT of details about After Life. I also got the Koreeda quote from here. YAY!
*ARATA - for fangirls. He is the cute guy who plays Mochizuki.
*ERIKA ODA - the cute girl who plays Shiori. :3
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-Kthxbai. JULZ :D


(Non) Fiction Film

After Life (1998) trailer

After Life (original title: Wandâfuru raifu) is a Japanese film written and directed by Koreeda Hirokazu. The movie explores a notion of the after life wherein the dead must choose one cherished memory to carry with them to the afterlife (note the difference between "after life" - the moment after death, and "afterlife" the place where the dead ultimately go). In the film, we see a group of newly-deceased arrive at a dreary waystation on Monday and are told by social workers that they must choose their one memory by Wednesday. For the rest of the week, the crew will work on re-creating the memory as a short film which the deceased will view on their final day, Sunday, before passing on to the afterlife. Their memory of their past life and their week at the waystation will be wiped clean and they will relive the memory recaptured on film for eternity. Those that cannot or will not choose a memory will remain at the station as a member of the crew.

Shot in a documentary-style, Koreeda initially interviewed a group of 500 people (a mix of actors and civilians) to describe what memory they would choose to take with them to heaven. The raw emotion evoked by the talented cast, combined with the fact that we do not know which ones are scripted by actors and which are genuine experiences of real people, allows us to immerse ourselves in this "non fiction" film in a way we usually respond to fictional films. As mentioned by the second poster above, the technique of shooting from the point of view of the interviewer allows the audience to feel as if the deceased interviewee is speaking to us. It also allows us to imagine their experiences for ourselves as we watch them struggle to choose a memory. As Koreeda stated in this interesting interview, "I said to the cameraman: ‘Let’s choose techniques from both fiction and documentary without distinguishing between them.'" In this way, After Life uses documentary techniques to make a film about the documentation of memories.

According to this review, Koreeda was inspired to write this film by his own experience as a child witnessing his grandfather slowly lose his memories from Alzheimer's disease. It thus occurred to him that memories give our lives meaning. The matter of choosing one memory to relive for eternity requires the evaluation of one's whole life. As shown in the film, people value their life's worth in different ways. Because those that die young have less life experience to draw from, the tendency is for them to either choose a trivial, fleeting moment of happiness (such as a trip to Disneyland) or refuse to choose at all (exhibited by the defiant Yusuke Iseya and evidenced by the fact that many of the crew are young). Those who are older have more difficulty choosing a memory, either because they cannot choose from so many memories, or they feel as if their lives were too unremarkable to even have a special memory. An example of the latter is Ichiro Watanabe, whose indecision prompts the crew to show him video tapes of his life (apparently every moment of life is recorded by some unseen force onto VHS tapes) to facilitate his choice. In the end, we realize that this film is more than another afterlife allegory; it deals with the complex matter of recognizing happiness and finding value in our time on earth. This is further emphasized by the fact that the film's original title can roughly be translated as Wonderful Life.

This brings me to raise the same question as the first poster: If the crew of the after life station have access to footage of your entire life, then what is the purpose of re-creating one memory? Why not just find the moment on tape and use that as the final viewing before the person moves on? The answer, as pointed out by the poster, is because life looks different from our own point of view. Sensory experience cannot be captured by an observer; it can only be described by the person who felt it. Because of this, the interviews are necessary for the crew to understand not only what happened, but how it happened, what they were thinking, and how they were feeling at the time, in order to faithfully reproduce the memory on tape. The most striking thing for me about the film was the fact that the deceased were so actively involved in the making of the film. The first poster above mentioned the word "self-deception." I agree with this because the people knew it was all fake, but they didn't care. Orson Welles tested the audience's willingness to accept what is presented on film in F for Fake (1974) and proved that people believe in what they see on screen. He used the stories of real-like forgers and fakers to show how easy it is to convince people that a hoax is genuine. In the case of After Life, it didn't matter to the deceased that the whole thing was fake - a mere re-enactment constructed on a set - because they knew that in the end, it wouldn't matter. They knew that the films were not their real memories and, in fact, took part in the production process, but their willingness to believe in the medium (and the knowledge that they would forget everything other than the film's content after they pass on) allowed them to get lost in the trickery of film making. The important thing was that the final film looked real enough to feel real to them.

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A counselor interviews a member of the recently deceased

My next point involves the view of the second poster regarding film as the re-creation of memory. The person said that "the creation sequence may be read as a mockery of the very creation process, of the filmmaking process and how the representation is no good compared to the richness of the real… the medium of film is just something that can never make art to be in the same level of richness as the original experience." I have to disagree on this point because the way I see it, the re-creation of an experience from a specific point of view actually makes it more rich and vivid. In a way, the VHS recordings from their lives can be seen as the "documentary" and the short films that they are making are their own interpretation of the actual event. Ichiro Watanabe hoped that by documenting his entire life, the VHS tapes would provide some kind of evidence of his worth, but their bleak depiction of his life only served to remind him that his life was uneventful. In the end he chose to re-create the poignancy of a moment of inaction, a quiet moment with his wife on a park bench, because he realized that how he felt in that instant was greater than the dullness of the rest of his life. Watanabe himself did not realize the significance of this event until he saw it in the context of his whole life. This illustrates how taking a person’s subjective view of an event can actually make the interpretation seem more meaningful in retrospect than it did during the event itself.

As we see in this example, the tapes helped stir a memory of his emotions on the bench, much in the same way that photographs remind us of times past. Early in the film, members of the crew discussed one case where a man chose a moment of happiness as an infant. They argued whether or not it is possible to remember that far back. I personally don't think it is without the help of media. In Aaron Gerow's review of the film, he points out that "[Today's children are] videotaped from day one until their whole existence becomes summarized on magnetic tape. When they look back on their lives, can they pull out any memories not influenced by the media around them?" In the same way that Ichiro Watanabe needed some evidence of his life, we too rely on media such as photos and home videos to store our memories for us. Why do we record important events? To freeze a moment we want to remember. Film immortalizes experience, showing us either facts through the raw method of documentary-style, or fictionalized accounts through stylizing and editing (anytime we splice a home video or photoshop a picture, we change the way we will remember the original experience later on). So when the deceased take part in the process of re-creation, they make it the way they want to remember it. The camera lens allows the person to show how the event happened in their eyes. It is a medium with which they can personalize and immortalize their experience in a tangible form - a strip of celluloid which will be stored in the archives of the station forever.

The main character of the film's major story arc is Takashi Mochizuki, a counselor who, through a complicated series of events, eventually chooses a memory to move on with 50 years after his death. His final memory - the one he chooses to relive for eternity - is that of being part of the film crew, after realizing that he had brought happiness to someone's life. It goes unsaid in the film, but my personal interpretation is that he chose his participation in the film making process because he also helped bring happiness to countless other people's after-lives through his films. Because of workers like him in the station, people get another chance to relive the best moments of their lives after their deaths

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Mochizuki takes the image of his co-workers and fellow film makers with him to the afterlife

After Life makes a statement about film as a repository of memories, the identification with which helps people cope with their own lives. It is appropriate that the crew members are presented as social workers and the station is depicted as bleak and dreary. I view this as a commentary on film making itself: that film making is an unglamorous process meant to create a vision of reality that audiences can believe in. The interim after life is depicted as a dark, snowy place and not the ethereal Heaven/Summerland that people often envision it to be, much in the same way that a film set is often more unglamorous than audiences would like to believe. Film makers are "social workers" because they study, reflect, and (re-)create the experience of society for the purpose of engaging them. Thus, film making becomes a cycle of taking from reality, interpreting it on screen, and giving it back for audiences to view and make part of their own memories - both as a personal experience of the film and as a part of our collective consciousness through popular culture. I'd like to repeat what Erich Shulte says in this review for the film, "In addition to all of this heavy life and death stuff, After Life is about film. After all, people who are making films in the real world are, in special cases, making memories. For many of us, Charles Foster Kane, Jaws' maw or the words 'you talkin' to me?' will be favored parts of our memories well into senility. After Life isn't quite at the level of those films, but for those who connect with it, it won't soon be forgotten."

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An alternate poster for After Life which can be interpreted as the cyclical nature of both life and film making.

an interesting link: http://www.screenindia.com/old/print.php?content_id=8765&secnam=international
In this interview I previously linked to, Koreeda explains why he chose to include a marching band in the film. He talks about how it reinforces the schoolyard imagery, emphasizing the theme of evolving and moving on with the help of others.


Submitted by cherrycokejunkie (Student ID #061086)


In the film, one sees that memory is a means of recollecting the past. However,the recollection of a single and trans-historical datum will be different for each people. This is not limited to the difference in points of view; it also extends to the individual reconstruction of the past that takes place in one’s memories. Memory offers a means of entering and making sense of the past; but at the same time, it serves as a milieu where the past can be altered or even recreated.

Memory: Creative Reconstruction of the Past

In Afterlife, the points raised about memory support the notion of memory as a creative writer. Here, the process of inclusion and exclusion of details, and also the probable (although subconscious) omission of details in the thing or event recounted show how memory can be futilely reconstructed in a way that is totally faithful to the original thing/event. Memory is also shown to include some details which may never have taken place in the light of matter-of-factness, or existed in the original datum. Many of the dialogues, especially when the interviewees begin to dig deeper into their chosen memory, go by, “Thinking about it now,” which indicates a change in how their memories appear to them now in contrast to before. Once again, it is a form of reconstruction that is both unfaithful and faithful—to the datum and to its meaning or interpretation, respectively. “The moon’s shape never changes but looks different depending on the angle,” the old counselor remarked. This statement on the mutability of perception towards a factual event— how its meaning and appearance to a person may change—supports the inconstant nature of memory, in relation to its strict (or lack of) adherence to the event/thing on which it is based.

Film and Artificiality as Creative (and faithful) Reconstructions of Memory and the Past

This reconstruction extends to artificial realms, and the film includes several scenes that portray truth and meaning may be found even in artificiality. One is the artificial moon on the chimney, which the lad dramatically looked up to as though it was real. Had the actual film audiences not known in succeeding scenes that the moon was not the real, natural moon that orbited the Earth, we would not have suspected it to be unreal. In this sense, one sees that artificiality can evoke the same feelings as that which it fabricates. Hence, although the artificial moon may be perceived as “fake” in contrast to Earth’s genuine “moon”, the experience towards the artificial remains as true as that towards the genuine.

Similar to this is the very process of adapting people’s memories into film. The dead interviewees thoroughly observed the production crew as they recreated the setting of their memory for them, and then exclaimed, “This is exactly what it’s like.” The statement admits that the reconstruction and the reality/event/datum on which it is based are not one and the same, and yet the artificiality is able to successfully capture and impart a certain truth that remains faithful to the original object of reminiscence. In behalf of the production crew who work hard to transform people’s memories into film, what they struggle with is very much like the choice that filmmakers in reality must face— which images must they choose and exclude in accordance to what truth they want to convey.

Through this, one can actually juxtapose memory and film. The inconstancy of memory may be suffered as well in cinematic representation, being inevitably unfaithful (in a matter-of-fact or blow-by-blow account sense) to an original work (in the film’s case, memory.) The film is a reproduction and reconstruction. It helps deepen and expand the meaning of real events from which it stem. This could possibly be said about memory too, that the same feelings and meaning can be found, even if memory falls short at complete faithfulness to factual data because of its inconstant and reconstructive characteristic. The artificial, the additions, although are mere reconstructions, still convey truths.


Sources and Helpful Links

Notes on nostalgia that may be applied as well to memory: the futile attempt of recounting the past as it objectively happened
Some discussions on the postmodern view of history that is relevant to the postmodern view of memory as a reconstruction
Review of the film that gives insight to memory as a reconstruction
Gayle Greene’s feminist theory on memory as a reconstruction (I’m afraid I can’t find a link for this now; I used this source coming from a hard copy that was just lent to me. The sad thing is, majority of my points come from this source. I will try to find it online or look for other relevant sources in the future.)

edited/submitted by 052328

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