Review: True Mothers – Asa ga Kuru (2020)

True Mothers – Asa ga Kuru (2020)

Directed by: Naomi Kawase | 140 minutes | drama | Actors: Hiromi Nagasaku, Arata Iura, Aju Makita, Reo Sato, Hiroko Nakajima, Tetsu Hirahara, Ren Komai, Taketo Tanaka, Rio Yamashita, Kokoro Morita, Hitomi Hazuki, Natsumi Ishibashi, Gô Rijû, Miyoko Asada

Satoko (Hiromi Nagasaku) and her husband Kiyokazu (Arata Iura) live a prosperous life, but they fail to have children. After a futile attempt to conceive, and convinced by an adoption agency’s speech, Satoko and Kiyokazu decide to adopt a baby boy. They become the parents of Asato, a boy born from a troubled teenage relationship. Years later, however, the couple’s lives are shaken up by an unknown and threatening girl, Hikari, who claims to be Asato’s real mother. Satoko and Kiyokazu have no choice but to confront this Hikari, which leads to some extraordinary revelations.

What makes a mother, a mother? And what makes a family, a family? Is it determined by blood relationship, or by upbringing? Because of the bond between parent and child? Or by something completely different?

“True Mothers,” based on Mizuki Tsujimura’s hit novel, asks these questions. The film is directed by Japanese filmmaker Naomi Kawase, known for titles such as ‘The Mourning Forest’ (2007) and ‘Sweet Bean’ (2015). In many ways it is a film in which the director reflects on her own past. Kawase was adopted as a young child by her great-aunt and great-uncle, after her parents divorced and her mother could no longer care for her. Kawase’s past is at the forefront of much of her oeuvre and can be traced back to the beginning of her career, when she still made short documentaries about her family history. With ‘True Mothers’ she returns to her roots again.

‘True Mothers’ is the kind of movie where question marks are cleared up very gradually. For example, the mystery surrounding the mysterious Hikari remains unanswered for a long time. This makes the film quite long, resulting in a running time of two and a half hours. Does this make the movie a bit bloated? Yes. But does this also make the film bad? Under no circumstances.

With ‘True Mothers’, Kawase has formed a work that looks strongly documentary, both aesthetically and in terms of production. As a result, Kawase succeeds in creating an extremely authentic atmosphere. The emotional and psychological development of the characters is evident, emphasized by the changing of the seasons (the film is set during a time frame of six years). Hiromi Nagasaku and Arata Iura, who play Satoko and Kiyokazu, play a clear and strong role in maintaining this stable and emotional rhythm. They are believable and sympathetic at all times. Therefore, when Hikari appears on the scene, you immediately begin to fear for their success. But behind Hikari itself there is also more than meets the eye. We learn more and more about her as the story progresses, until the viewer realizes that she is just as important as Satoko and Kiyokazu. Kawase emphasizes that she is not interested in one-dimensional characters.

Although ‘True Mothers’ is definitely a drama film, the tone is certainly not gloomy. The film could have easily succumbed to the tragedy and heaviness of its subjects, but Kawase chose not to make a dark film. Her approach is always optimistic. Unlike all the blows of fate the characters have to endure, their courage to face life never quite fades. ‘True Mothers’ thus becomes a plea for life itself, in which Kawase skillfully juggles the melancholy and the cheerful and hopeful. It is a beautiful and nuanced film, which, despite its long running time, certainly deserves to be seen

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