Archives for the month of: March, 2014

I’ve had this film on my mind for the past few weeks. When I first watched it, at least 10 years ago, the question it posed made an impression on me: If when I Die, I can select one memory to take with me to the beyond and relive that memory for eternity, what would I choose?

The film was stored in my mental river. I’m not sure what has drawn me back to this movie recently, possibly it was recharged by watching another Japanese film dealing with death and reading a handful of Japanese literature lately that brought me back.

The film is told, for the most part, through a series of interviews with the dead who have arrived at a way station. They have one week to decide on just one memory that the counselors will do their best to recreate on film for the dead to view one last time before they depart to heaven and live this memory for eternity. The counselors gather as much information as possible from each person in order to bring their one memory to life. In some cases, when a person cannot think of any memories, their tapes are ordered: one for each year of their life. They then sit down, watch and search.

As I began giving thought to the memories in my own memory bank–if this were real and I were in their shoes, what would I do? At first, a memory came to me easily enough. Then I thought of how much depends of what stage of life we’re at and whose in it at the time. But if I’m already dead, that changes.

Then after watching the movie again, I had a change of heart. I realized that it would be too difficult to select just one memory, and to be honest, after I started thinking about what one of the characters said, he reminded me that it might actually be a little sad to relive the same memory forever.

I identified most with an elderly woman in her eighties who reminded me of my grandmother. She had nice round cheeks that were lifted into a smile. While she was sitting for her interview, as soon as she heard birds chirping, she looked to where she heard the sound coming from, and all her attention shifted. She didn’t say much. She had a bag in her lap that she was taking leaves out of and setting on the table, one by one. She asked if there were any flowers in the garden. In the spring they told her.

After asking her a series of questions: Was she married? Did she have children? and being met with nods of her head to say no, the counselors realized that this woman had actually already chosen her memory. She had sort-of locked into her childhood when she died, so instead of the 80-year old woman we saw, she was actually a young girl inside. They show a scene toward the end where she is sitting on the bench swinging her legs with the happiest, most carefree expression on her face. That is one of my favorite moments in the movie.

There aren’t any special effects in this film; instead what you’ll find is a touching, sometimes funny, sometimes sad expression of the afterlife and an exploration of the memories these characters hang on to, the power of all of our senses; and in turn, how these expressions encourage us to reflect upon our own treasured memories.

**

After Life (known in Japan as Wonderful Life) – 1998
Directed and written by Hirokazu Koreeda

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As I wake,
cool air slips through the open window
caressing my cheeks and forehead with its freshness.
Small birds chatter away, a single crow sounds his horn–
and then my senses perk up as I hear the familiar
and welcome sound of Canadian Geese pass overhead,
with their deep guttural, honk-honk–I take a deep breath,
smile, and live in the moment of waking.

As I left the house Friday morning, the sky opened up bright. The rain began again, streaming down like morse code delivering a message with the most positive vibration–a message that I could not decipher, except in how it made me feel inside.

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Walking back from the laundry room, it was near evening; I looked up into the sky, when I saw a black man in his thirties approach the duplex we live in. He was wearing a satchel that seemed to be bulging with books, a clipboard under his arm. “Hello” I said as I walked up behind him carrying my laundry basket full of warm clothes. He turned and gave me a wide smile and an energetic “good evening.” He went into his sales pitch; I walked past him so that I was closer to the door. In as polite a manner as possible, I asked him if he could get to what it was he was selling because I had something on the stove. I smiled. He said no problem and with his continued joyful nature, he added that he was a single father and this was his last stop and that he needed to sell one more magazine subscription.

“I don’t have any cash. All I have are these quarters,” and I pulled out the baggy of quarters from my pocket. “I don’t usually carry cash. I’m sorry.”

“Are you sure you can’t help.”

“But I just told you I don’t have any cash.”

I’m beginning to feel uncomfortable. The night seems to be getting darker. Finally, he accepts that I’m not going to buy a magazine subscription. His smile and joy disappear like a magic trick. Poof. He doesn’t say thanks for your time or anything. He just shakes his head at me, gives me a dejected look, and turns to go.

“Good luck,” I say.

I might have bought what he was selling if I did have the money. On the other hand, the way that he acted when I wasn’t able to help him, makes me think twice. I can see the situation from both points of view. I can appreciate his disappointment, yet how can a person be so bold, to expect another human to produce something that they simply do not have in that moment.

I was perturbed. I forgot to look back up into the sky because, now, I was distracted. I don’t like disappointing people; more than that, I don’t care for people that are nice when they want something and then turn their act off when they don’t get what they want.

I’m always leery of sales people; however, if you’re going to try to sell something, at least have the courtesy to see your script through and be kind either way. After all, you are taking someone’s time.

The laundry in my basket turned cold. As I walked into the house, I couldn’t help but to re-contemplate the human condition, and the weeks since this occurrence I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind, in this specific situation and in general.