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Mother - Movie Poster
Original Title:

Japan 2020


Tatsushi Omori

Masami Nagasawa
Daiken Okudaira
Sadao Abe
Sho Gunji
Halo Asada
Sarutoki Minagawa
Taiga Nakano
Kaho Tsuchimura
Hana Kino

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Mother - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Akiko (Masami Nagasawa) has no job and lives separated from her husband, who pays her alimony for their son Shuhei (Sho Gunji). But Akiko constantly needs money because she has a gambling problem. Her parents and her sister don't give her money anymore, even when she makes Shuhei ask for it. That's why she seduces good-for-nothing Ryo (Sadao Abe), who she hopes will be able to support her financially. At the same time, she just wants to have some fun, so she leaves Shuhei alone at home for several days. However, the little boy is already used to taking care of himself. When she's back, she and Ryo try to get some money blackmailing an acquaintance. But things don't go quite as planned, and so Akiko, Ryo and Shuhei have to take off and go into hiding. Then, it turns out that Akiko is pregnant again. She wants to keep the child. Ryo, on the other hand, is not ready to be a father and leaves. Five years later, Akiko, Shuhei (Daiken Okudaira) and little Fuyuka (Halo Asada) wander the streets as homeless people. They live from day to day and never know when they will get their next meal. But then social worker Aya (Kaho) notices them and takes care of them. Shuhei, who has never finished elementary school, finally learns how to read and write properly, but his mother has no plans to continue this life. For Shuhei, this would be the perfect time to grab his sister and break free from his mother if he ever wanted to have a better life.

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Review: "Mother" is based on a true story and sheds light on a broken family in which a mother subtly abuses her children, which the young kids do not even realize. A drama that is not for the faint of heart, as there is a lot of realism. Thanks to good performances, the viewer gets a close look at the inner workings of a relationship between a mother and her children that can only end in disaster. Even though Shuhei is often shown that there is another life out there, he is undecided whether he actually wants it for himself. Every time he follows his mother, either without any protest at all or at least with talking back at her a little, disappointment sets in for the viewer, which can quickly turn into hopelessness. A depressing movie.

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Unfortunately, it's because of its realism that "Mother" is occasionally a little long-winded too. But most of the time there is always something happening, and the family finds itself thrown into new situations they have to manage. At some point, the mother and her children end up on the streets, and watching this is particularly painful, because while the mother absolutely deserves that, the children are just getting dragged down by her. If it means she can't be with them or have control over them, Akiko doesn't actually want a better life for her children. Understanding and breaking down all of this little by little is quite exciting, but sadly there are also a few scenes in which there is not really happening a lot, and the family simply wanders the streets with bag and baggage. It is clear that director Tatsushi Omori wanted to capture the atmosphere here, and mostly quite successfully so. But sometimes, it also stretches the viewer's patience.

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Nevertheless, it's actually Masami Nagasawa ("I Am a Hero"), who deserves most praise in this movie. She portrays a woman who is both an offender and (to some extent) a victim. She is always looking for a man she can take advantage of. Because she is a mother, you still feel pretty confident that she also does this for her children's sake, but when you see her sitting in front of a pachinko machine, you quickly have to abandon this illusion. Not only does she gamble away the money she should use to provide for her children, but she also sends little Shuhei to ask her parents for money. Shuhei is exploited and used as a means of extortion. However, Masami Nagasawa actually manages to make us feel sorry for Akiko from time to time. After all, there are even a few scenes in which you get the impression that she really loves her children. But at some point, you realize that this love probably only serves as comfort for herself.

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Unfortunately, we never get to know which psychological scars actually led Akiko to become such a person. We also briefly meet Shuhei's father, and he seems to be quite all right. When little Shuhei asks him for some money for "a school trip", he even wants to know, if Shuhei maybe would like to live with him. But Shuhei simply cannot break away from his toxic family ties, even though there are repeatedly opportunities to free himself from the relationship with his mother, who just drags him down with her to the very bottom. Hoping that Shuhei might finally open his eyes at some point and see what Akiko is doing to him creates a certain suspense. When Fuyuka is born, we hope that he will choose his sister and eventually decides to look for a normal life for himself and his sibling. However, the mother has sole control over him and acts as if her iron grip - she angrily declares "Those are MY children" to everyone else - were actually love.

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But life with his mother is all Shuhei knows. Even though he wants to go to school and loves to read, the opinion and care he gets from others cannot match up to what his mother means to him. That's the way he grew up and he doesn't know any better. Perhaps he just tries to justify all the misfortune he had in life by grasping at the last straw: his mother only wants the best for him. Sometimes "Mother" has the touch of a psychological thriller, because the subtle pressure on Shuhei and the way Akiko manipulates him is pretty nerve-racking and cruel. The movie lives from its nuanced character portrayals, so Ryo, for example, does not only have bad sides, even though you might quickly want to label him as a good-for-nothing. With that "Mother" has quite some depth, but without spelling things out too much. And with its long shots, which also create authenticity, the directing job stands out positively too. Yet, the movie is not for everyone. It is not easy to see this toxic relationship unfold in front of you. In addition, a few scenes are, as mentioned before, a little bit long-winded.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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