Afterlife: A Practicum on Buddhism

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This paper examines Hirokazu Koreeda’s 1998 motion picture, “Afterlife,” in terms of its pedagogical value for historical, religious, and cross-cultural studies. Film critics have correctly seen the movie as a prolonged meditation on the role and function of memory in human relationships, and Koreeda himself has tried to avoid discussing its religious implications. Nevertheless, it clearly demonstrates major characteristics and values of Buddhism. In some traditions, the Buddha predicted that his ideas would so thoroughly suffuse the world that they would become invisible. In this indeterminate state, they would be as all-pervasive and as unobtrusive as the air we breathe. “Afterlife” personifies that “Second Age” of Buddhism, when practice survived the withering away of its formal expression. In the course of the film, and while adopting an entirely secular tone, Koreeda incorporated examples of numerous elements that are either unique to or heavily emphasized in Buddhism. Among them are: the pervasiveness of craving; life as suffering; limbo; the finality of “suchness”; a bodhisattva figure; the illusory nature of appearance; the importance of contemplation; the value of relationships; dependent origination; enlightenment; and the compartmentalized view of time. In the process, Koreeda has fashioned an admiral teaching tool that can serve as a practicum in the application of Buddhist principles. This paper examines Hirokazu Koreeda’s 1998 motion picture, “Afterlife,” in terms of its pedagogical value for historical, religious, and cultural studies. Film critics have correctly seen the movie as a prolonged meditation on the role and function of memory in human relationships, and Koreeda himself has tried to avoid discussing its religious implications. Nevertheless, it clearly demonstrates major characteristics and values of Buddhism. In some traditions, the Buddha predicted that his ideas would so thoroughly suffuse the world that they would become invisible. In this indeterminate state, they would be as all-pervasive and as unobtrusive as the air we breathe. “Afterlife” personifies that “Second Age” of Buddhism, when practice survived the withering away of its formal expression. In the course of the film, and while adopting an entirely secular tone, Koreeda incorporated examples of numerous elements that are either unique to or heavily emphasized in Buddhism. Among them are: the pervasiveness of craving; life as suffering; the finality of “suchness”; a bodhisattva figure; the illusory nature of appearance; the importance of contemplation; the value of relationships; dependent origination; enlightenment; and the compartmentalized view of time. In the process, Koreeda has fashioned an admiral teaching tool that can serve as a practicum in the application of Buddhist principles.


Keywords: Limbo, Bodhisattva, Enlightenment, Nirvana, Karma, Dharma
Stream: Media, Film Studies, Theatre, Communication
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Dr. Michael J. Fontenot

Professor, Department of History, Southern University
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA


Dr. Karen Fontenot

Professor and Department Head, Department of Communication, Southeastern Louisiana University
Hammond, Louisiana, USA


Ref: H08P0115