After Life

Directed by Kore-Eda Hirokazu

After Life is easily one of my favourite films of all time. The premise is simple: set in modern day Japan, a group of people arrive at a small retreat. As the title suggests, the group are all recently dead. It is the job of the people who work at the retreat to take each person's most cherished memory and turn it into a brief film that will be the basis for the remainder of their existence.

This movie could easily have become extremely cheesy if it had been even slightly overdone. In fact, the reason it works so well is because it goes exactly the opposite way. The focus of the movie does not lie in the questions and possibilities of life after death; instead, the premise allows us a better perspective on the characters who, having left behind the struggles of life, are more purely and openly human than people can normally be.

This film is subtitled, but the translation is perfect; there is no awkwardness of language, which is essential, since the strength of the movie lies in communicating volumes while the characters say comparatively little.

I give this film the highest recommendation. Look for it in an indy videostore; it's worth hunting around for.

Original title: Wandafuru raifu or Wonderful Life (1998)
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Starring: Kazuko Shirakawa, Takashi Naito, Susumu Terajima, Akio Yokoyama, Kyoko Kagawa
Genre: Documentary-like, Drama
Language: Japanese (English Subtitled)
Details: Japan, 118 min, color
Other: DVD available

Numerous films have tried to explain what takes place after death, yet none can give you a real answer. The idea behind afterlife is unusual: “What is the one memory you would take with you?” This becomes the requirement to proceed to the afterlife.

After Life incorporates numerous empty shots: an empty room, hallway and chair. These give an interesting feeling; since our lives are often filled with spans of time were nothing much happens. To give use a feel of the visual memory; we have scenes that several days later, popup in our mind. Like the institute’s logo, the sight of two men watching a film of the woman they both loved, the old lady gathering leaves and rocks, a noisy band sitting on snowy steps. Together it creates remarkable sense of reality and naturalism it becomes irresistible to examine our own life for that unique memory.

One example for these interviews is with a young girl immense joy about her trip to Disneyland. The counsellors are there to guide them to choose a memory that will remain for eternity, and not criticize them. The girl’s counsellor personally want her to choose something else, more meaningful in her life. Learning her choice was too common she decides on a more unique and personal memory.

Another is with a pilot, whose memory is to be in the clouds for the first time, clearly knows what he wants and is interested in specific details to recreate his memory. Such as the place placement of the wing is more important than the actual cockpit. In the end, his memory is a location but the emotions he witnessed the first time passes through a cloud.

After Life is a sequence of a dozen different memories, which when brought together creates a life. Some remember love, some remember comfort, and others remember physical pleasure; the totality is the essence of life.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Episode Guide
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Contains Season 6 spoilers. Don't read if you don't want to know.

After Life: Buffy's back... but did she come back alone?
Season 6, Episode 3
First US airdate: October 9, 2001
Written by Jane Espenson, Directed by David Solomon

Guest Stars
Lisa Hoyle - Wraithy Demon

Episode Synopsis: We join the Scoobies very shortly after the end of Bargaining, Part II. It is the same night, and Willow, Tara, Xander, and Anya are on their way to the Summers house. They figure that Buffy will be there, and in the meantime, they discuss what might be wrong with her. Anya thinks that Buffy is "broken," but Willow guesses that Buffy is probably just disoriented from her time in a hell dimension.

Meanwhile, Dawn and Buffy arrive home, but Buffy still isn’t quite "right." (insert opening credits here). As Dawn cleans some of the dirt off Buffy, she notices that Buffy's hands are bloody from having to claw out of her grave. Buffy, however, is somewhat restless after three months dead, and she leaves the room while Dawn is trying to button her shirt. Spike comes in downstairs looking for Dawn. He is speechless upon seeing Buffy, and then he notices her hands. Having gone through the whole "digging out of a coffin" thing, he understands what Buffy had to do. Before their touching reunion moment can be fully realized, Willow, Tara, Xander, and Anya arrive. They have a lot of questions for Buffy, but Buffy can’t handle all of the attention and noise. Dawn tells the other Scoobies to back off, and Buffy says that she just wants to go to sleep. Anya and Xander leave, and they run into Spike outside. Spike is not too pleased with the current circumstances, because the group kept him in the dark about their plans to bring Buffy back. He says that Willow knew that there was a chance that Buffy would come back wrong, and that magic always has consequences.

Willow calls Giles to tell him that Buffy is back, and she and Tara get ready for bed. Willow says that everyone had just expected for things to go wrong with the spell – nobody thought that it would actually work. She wonders why Buffy isn't happy, and Tara tells her to give it time. Buffy, meanwhile, is in her room. She looks at some pictures of the Scoobies, and the images all change into skeletons. In the middle of the night, Willow and Tara are attacked by something that looks like Buffy. Willow calls Xander, and while they are on the phone, Anya is possessed by something. Her eyes turn white, and she starts cutting her face with a knife.

The next day, the Scoobies gather to discuss what's going on. They decide that it's a hitchhiker – a demon that tagged along with Buffy when she crossed over from the hell dimension. The gang does some research at the Magic Box to see what kind of demon they might be dealing with. After Buffy goes out to patrol, it's Dawn's turn to be possessed, and the demonified Dawn shoots flames from her mouth. She collapses, and then comes to, not sure of what had just happened.

Meanwhile, Buffy goes to visit Spike. Spike tells her that he's been figuring out ways that he could have been faster or better – anything that would have stopped her from having to kill herself. The other Scoobies stay up all night researching the demons that might have crossed over with Buffy. Willow finally figures out what is happening – thaumogenesis. The spell that they did to resurrect Buffy actually created the demon they're dealing with, but the only way that the demon can live is if Buffy dies again. The demon hears this (by possessing Xander), and sets off to kill Buffy. Xander, Dawn, and Anya head over to Buffy's house to try to help her out, while Tara and Willow do a spell to bring the demon all the way into our dimension so that Buffy can fight and kill it.

The next day, Buffy goes to the Magic Box, and thanks Willow and the others for pulling her out of hell. She then heads outside, and finds Spike in a shady spot in the alley. She tells him that she thinks she was in heaven, and that her friends can never know the truth.

  • "I think I was in heaven..." – Buffy
    Well, that's kind of a twist. Of course, before this revelation, fans were being led to believe that Buffy had spent an indeterminate amount of time in a hell dimension, similar to what Angel experienced between Seasons 2 and 3. However, whereas Angel was savage and violent when he first returned (Beauty and the Beasts), Buffy has been detached and unemotional so far this season. Many fans figured that Buffy was reacting differently because she’s more human than Angel, or maybe she was in a less hellish hell dimension... theories abounded. This plot twist sets up some of the later episodes in the season (Once More, With Feeling and Tabula Rasa in particular) – Buffy was blissfully happy, and then had that happiness ruined by her best friends, who are all positive that they saved her from a horrible fate.
  • "That's the thing about magic. There's always consequences. Always." - Spike
    And thus, we welcome one of the prevailing themes of season 6. Willow's magic has, outside of some nosebleeds and headaches, never had lasting consequences for her. However, she’s started using forces that are completely unlike anything she has dealt with in the previous seasons. As we'll see later in this season, they're not exactly benign forces.
  • Demons that can move between dimensions: Skaggmore, Trellbane, Skitterers, Large-Bone Eaters, and Small-Bone Eaters.
  • Thaumogenesis – literally, "miracle beginning". Thauma-, thaumat- is a Greek root meaning miracle or wonder. Related words include thaumaturgus and thaumatrope. A Google search for thaumogenesis turns up only Buffy references, so I'm thinking that the writers made this word up. Thaumogenesis is also discussed in the Angel episode "The Price."
  • Apparently, when BBC aired this episode, they cut the brief scene with the possessed Anya cutting her face with a knife. As a US viewer, I didn’t think that it was overly graphic, but I might be desensitized to such things.
  • Quotes:

    Spike: Thank God. You scared me half to death... or more to death. You - I could kill you.
    Dawn: Spike...
    Spike: I mean it. I could rip your head off one-handed and drink from your brain stem.

    Spike: Uh... I do remember what I said. The promise. To protect her. If I had done that... even if I didn't make it... you wouldn't have had to jump. But I want you to know I did save you. Not when it counted, of course, but after that. Every night after that. I'd see it all again... do something different. Faster or more clever, you know? Dozens of times, lots of different ways... Every night I save you.

    Buffy: I was happy. Wherever I was... I was happy. At peace. I knew that everyone I cared about was all right. I knew it. Time didn't mean anything... nothing had form... but I was still me, you know? And I was warm... and I was loved... and I was finished. Complete. I don't understand about theology or dimensions, or any of it, really... but I think I was in heaven. And now I'm not. I was torn out of there. Pulled out... by my friends. Everything here is hard, and bright, and violent. Everything I feel, everything I touch... this is hell. Just getting through the next moment, and the one after that... knowing what I've lost... They can never know. Never.

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