At 6-foot-2, the Japanese actor Hiroshi Abe looks acutely out of place in many of the settings in “After the Storm,” the solid yet subtly sphinxlike new drama from filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda (“Like Father, Like Son”). Abe’s character, Ryota, must stoop to enter the door to his own cluttered apartment, and at the apartment of his recently widowed mother (Kirin Kiki) — where Ryota spends a lot of time, scrounging through his late father’s belongings for stuff to pawn — he’s so ungainly that he bumps into, and breaks, a window while trying to move potted plants in preparation for the impending typhoon that lends the film its title.
Such physical awkwardness functions as a kind of visual metaphor for the character, a divorced father who once wrote a prizewinning novel, but who now works as a private detective, gathering evidence of marital infidelity — and blowing his salary on a gambling addiction — while yearning to reconnect with his school-age son, Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa), with whom he has monthly visits.
As with all of Kore-eda’s films, very little happens that is conventionally cinematic. Even the titular storm takes place largely off camera, as the film’s four main characters — who include Ryota’s ex-wife, Kyoko (Yoko Maki) — gather for an enforced sleepover at Ryota’s mom’s place when the rains prevent everyone from returning to their homes after a get-together.
That climactic sleepover is awkward for everyone, not just Ryota, who wishes that Kyoko were not involved with another man, and who makes a halfhearted pass at her that is quickly rebuffed. She’s running out of patience with Ryota for his consistently late or missing child-support payments. And Shingo seems to crave a connection with his dad as badly as Ryota does, although neither seems to know how to facilitate it.
It’s during that overnight storm that Ryota and Shingo sneak out to a nearby park, sheltering inside a covered jungle-gym-like structure where Ryota and his own father used to gather when Ryota was a child. Folded inside the enclosure’s child-size tunnels, Abe looks even more ungainly than before. But it is there that some barely perceptible barometric change occurs in the film’s emotional dynamics.
It isn’t entirely clear what, if anything, has happened, but as the film ends and skies clear, there’s a glimmer of hope that life might someday offer Ryota, if not the salvation of more soppy melodramas, then maybe a bit more breathing room.
Unrated. At area theaters. Contains brief coarse language. In Japanese with subtitles. 117 minutes.