“It’s next to impossible to imagine a performance like the sensational one that Hiroshi Abe contributes to Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After the Storm ever making its way onto a Best Actor roster, and that’s not only due to the fact that the film itself is a low-key ensemble drama from a Japanese auteur whom the Academy has only recently recognized with formal membership. Subtlety is the hallmark of Abe’s work but it’s also a skill infrequently rewarded by Oscar voters, especially when applied in the service of characters of a certain woebegone disposition.
As Ryôta, a failed writer and patriarch trying to salvage what remains of his middle age, Abe surrenders himself, body and soul, to a fundamentally dispiriting figure and etches a manifestation of depression that is very nearly as potent as Casey Affleck’s much ballyhooed and stoically captivating career peak in Manchester by the Sea. Yet between the two, Abe’s emerges as the far more varied and physically accomplished characterization. With his hunched shoulders, hangdog mouth, and sunken eyes, Abe wears Ryôta’s sadness on the surface, vividly but not flashily. We see Ryôta’s flop sweat and silent panic, but also the flickers of a once-vibrant inner life constantly waging battle with the unbeatable misery weighing down his entire body. Abe also finds personal and precise ways of interacting with the actors around him: he’s evasive but affectionate with his endlessly forgiving mother (the marvelous Kirin Kiki), impish with his young, impressionable son (Taiyô Yoshizawa), and louche to a fault around his wary former wife (Yōko Maki). The result is a fully-realized, flesh-and-blood invention, made all the more commendable for its lack of showy histrionics and convenient exposition. Abe magnetizes the camera with his every casual, character-specific move, keeping viewers drawn and empathetic to a man who exists on the screen but could plausibly live among us, which is perhaps the most heartbreaking attribute of all.” — Matthew Eng