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Thinking About Not Thinking: Buddhism, Meditation, and Film

Monday, March 2, 2009
3:00 p.m. After Life
Hirokazu Kore-eda (Japan, 1999)

PFA Collection Print
Lecture by Robert Sharf


Special admission prices apply: General admission, $11.50; BAM/PFA members, $7.50; UC Berkeley students, $5.50; Seniors, disabled persons, UC Berkeley faculty and staff, non–UC Berkeley students, and youth 17 and under, $8.50.

In After Life three salient but incommensurable Buddhist death experiences are interwoven. In the first, one’s state of mind at the moment of death irrevocably determines one’s next rebirth; in another, at death one enters an interregnum—a bardo or purgatory—during which it is possible to influence the conditions of one’s next rebirth; in the last, for Buddhas and enlightened beings only, death brings an eternal end to rebirth. However construed, Buddhists did agree that meditative practice was preparation for the inevitable confrontation with death. Kore-eda’s film, which imaginatively draws on and moves beyond traditional Buddhist cosmology, will be used to explore central notions of death, rebirth, karma, and liberation.—Robert Sharf

An original, humorous, and inspired meditation on life, memory, and happiness. Here, passage into the afterlife begins at a combination guidance school and movie set. As soon as a new group arrives, they are assigned counselors who help them choose one special memory to cherish for eternity. The memory, once picked, will be re-created by the staff, then captured on film for the dead to take into paradise. Mixing professionals with nonactors expressing their unscripted personal memories, the film combines genial, documentary-style conversations with poignant, resonant moments of discovery and magic as each person reveals a private paradise and then watches as a crew gathers to reenact it. After Life is, as the director states, “a film about memory, and also a film about what it means to make films.”—Jason Sanders

• Written by Kore-eda. Photographed by Yutaka Yamazaki, Masayoshi Sukita. With Arata, Taketoshi Naito, Erika Oda, Susumu Terajima. (115 mins, In Japanese with English subtitles, Color, 35mm, PFA Collection, permission New Yorker Films)