And … relax: film, music, art and books for chilling out

From a sun-dappled Japanese purgatory to a weightless infinity of mirrors, our critics recommend art that both stimulates and soothes


Bureaucracy meets the afterlife in Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After Life, a gently paced drama concerned with a simple question: which single memory from your life would you choose to remember for eternity? Every week, a group of recently deceased people arrive at an unassuming redbrick building – a purgatory of sorts – where they meet counsellors tasked with helping them move on. To do so, they will need to select the one moment of their lives they will bring into the afterlife (all other memories will be wiped out). Conversations between counsellor and client are calm and meditative, touching on the purpose of life and what, at the end of it, we will truly value. That – alongside After Life’s sumptuous shots of a surrounding autumnal, sun-dappled garden – makes the filmAfter Life a welcome prompt to rest and contemplate. Rebecca Liu



Magical … Martin Courtney.
Magical … Martin Courtney. Photograph: Sinna Nasseri

It’s quite the skill to write music that is both immersive and ethereal but, somehow, New Jersey’s Martin Courtney always manages it. In his solo work and with the band Real Estate, his penchant for dreamy suburban melodies feels akin to the limbo of travel: a peaceful train ride where nothing can be asked of you except to lean back, close your eyes and lose yourself somewhere between the opening guitar riff and the final sun-beaten chorus. Courtney’s new album, Magic Sign, hardly reinvents the wheel, but it’s the familiarity of the scenery that makes it feel so comforting. Jenessa Williams



Immersive experience … Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room.
Immersive experience … Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room. Photograph: Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama’s shimmering, seemingly endless, science fiction spaces, Infinity Mirror Rooms, are the art world’s answer to a Marvel film. Leave your critical faculties at home, open yourself to the special effects and feel the rush. But Kusama doesn’t need the crew of a Hollywood blockbuster. She creates her illusions quite simply with mirrors reflecting mirrors and bouncing light about. You seem to walk in the open expanses of the cosmos, freed from Earth, lost in a weightless dream. Is it just pure entertainment without any meaning, or a revelatory pilgrimage to a higher spiritual plane? Jonathan Jones



Fake or real … Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.
Fake or real … Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Photograph: Google

Two rival magicians vie to outdo each other in skill, and in the quality of the insults they lob at everyone, in this alternative history of England in the time of the Napoleonic wars. Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is full of ideas, moral challenges, wit and wisdom. It is literature of the highest quality. But it’s also a wonderfully relaxing read. Clarke’s clear and lovely prose allows you to float away, entirely out of your own head, to a new and much more interesting reality. It’s no wonder that although it was only published in 2004 it already seems like a timeless fantasy classic. Sam Jordison



Squared eyed … Marcus and Mica.
Squared eyed … Marcus and Mica. Photograph: Studio Lambert

I used to dismiss Gogglebox (watching people on TV watching their own TVs?!), until I actually watched it. Its long-running Friday night slot means it has become part of the ritual of switching off from the week that was. It doesn’t matter if you miss moments because of plating up a takeaway, putting a wash on, or maybe even falling asleep on the sofa before making it to bed – it’s only people reacting to telly after all. And yet, it’s so fun to feel a part of their conversations and watch them scream, laugh or cry at something you may or may not have also seen. During lockdown, I looked forward to it every week; there were so many times when the familiar families nailed the state of the nation’s emotions. It’s just like hanging out with friends at the pub – and, let’s be honest, we’re never fully listening to what they’re saying anyway. Hollie Richardson


Jonathan Jones, Sam Jordison, Rebecca Liu, Hollie Richardson and Jenessa Williams

The GuardianTramp

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