Like Giuseppe Tornatore's A Pure Formality, Koreeda's After Life is set in a waystation where the souls of the recently deceased are processed before entering heaven. "Heaven," for the film, is a single memory from one's life.
The movie is set in a structure resembling a decrepit travel lodge or social services institution. A group of people who have just died check in at the beginning of each week, and the "social workers" resident in the lodge explain to each guest their situation. The newly-dead have until Wednesday to decide what the single happiest or most significant memory from their life is, and then for the rest of the week the workers make short movies to recreate each person's chosen memory.
At the end of the week, the movies are shown in the screening room. As soon as each person sees his or her own memory, he or she vanishes to whatever unknown state of existence lies beyond and takes only that single memory with them into eternity.
The story revolves around two of the counselors, Takashi (Arata) and Shiori (Oda). Takashi has been assigned to help an old man, Ichiro (played by Naito Taketoshi), select his memory. Takashi reviews videotape of Ichiro's life and learns that Ichiro had married Takashi's former fiancée after Takashi had been killed during World War II. Takashi has Ichiro assigned to another counselor, but is still troubled by his memories, causing both him and his quasi-romantic interest Shiori to re-examine their (after-) lives.
Koreeda got his start directing television documentaries for TV Man Union. Much of the action in After Life is shown as interviews conducted with the recently deceased regarding their lives. Some of these interviews were scripted, but many were done impromptu, with real people (not actors) reminiscing about their own lives.