After Life

Written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-Eda

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Plays at 8 p.m. Sept. 3-5 at Webster University

A group of disparate people arrive at a shabby campus for what looks like adult-education orientation. But we soon discover that the facility is a way-station between life and the afterlife. Each Monday, a team of counselors greets a new batch of arrivals and explains the rules: By Wednesday, each ex-person must choose a single memory, no more than a few minutes long, that will be the only memory he or she can take along into the hereafter; on Thursday, the staff will make plans to film the memory; Friday is production day; and on Saturday the inductees will watch these short films in a small screening room, each one disappearing when the film finishes.

Japanese writer/director Hirokazu Kore-Eda's After Life is a step up from his debut, which is a damned good thing. The glacially paced Maborosi marked Kore-Eda as perhaps the dullest filmmaker working today; although After Life isn't all that much better, at least it gets a bit interesting in the final half-hour. That said, it's also utterly pointless. Kore-Eda has constructed a weird theology that neither correlates to anything in the real world nor provides an instructive model. Either one of these possibilities might have excused the complete senselessness and plot inconsistency of the setup. (Why are they reproducing moments on film when they already have everybody's life entirely preserved on videotape? Why does the Almighty run such an underfunded, tacky operation?) Defending Your Life was Albert Brooks' worst film, but it presented a heavenly bureaucracy that made more sense than this one. And, needless to say, it was also a lot funnier.

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