Stars: Aju Makita, Hiromi Nagasaku, Arata Iura, Reio Sato
Japanese writer-director Kawase’s adaptation of mystery writer Mizuki Tsujimura’s novel is a unwieldly family drama and study of motherhood with thriller and social realist elements.
Satoko (Nagasaku) and her husband Kiyokazu (Lura) are a comfortably-off Tokyo couple desperate for a child. Kurihara has been diagnosed with Aspermia and operations to remedy his condition are unsuccessful. Agonised they decide to adopt a child from adoption agency, Baby Baton. The couple agree to meet the birth mother, but their encounter with the girl and her bitterly ashamed parents is fraught.
Nevertheless, their subsequent years with their adorable adopted son Asato (Sato) are idyllic, until they receive a phone call, followed by a visit from a young woman claiming to be Asato’s mother. The couple however are not convinced that this is the young woman they encountered earlier.
The narrative flashes back five years to Hikari (Makita), a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl whose initially rosy romance with a good-looking fellow pupil takes a tragic turn when she learns she is pregnant, and her parents send her to an island retreat for unwed mothers. After giving birth and giving up her baby she cuts herself off from her parents and takes a job delivering papers in the city with friend and former sex worker Tomoka, who she met at the retreat.
It’s an odd mix of traditional gentle Japanese humanism, thriller and Dardenne brothers-style social commentary with self-consciously ‘transcendental’ visual elements. Despite some excellent performances, particularly an admirably internalised turn from Makit, and Iura, very touching as the bruised but dignified dad, the picture suffers from an excessively languid pacing over its two hour and twenty minute running time, while the numerous new agey shots of hazy sunshine beaming through cherry blossoms or linen sheets begin to feel almost self-parodic.
True Mothers is available to stream on Curzon Home Cinema from 16th April
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