True Mothers review: Naomi Kawase’s adoption drama feels boxed in by the melodrama

The film, an adaptation of mystery writer Mizuki Tsujimura’s 2015 novel, demands a more rigorous narrative than usual from the director

Clarisse Loughrey@clarisselou
Friday 16 April 2021 07:47
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<p>Hiromi Nagasaku and Arata Iura in ‘True Mothers’</p>

Hiromi Nagasaku and Arata Iura in ‘True Mothers’

Dir: Naomi Kawase. Starring: Hiromi Nagasaku, Arata Iura, Aju Makita, Miyoko Asada. 140 mins

Naomi Kawase’s work is an odyssey of the soul. As a child, the Japanese director, was abandoned by her birth father and raised by a great-aunt. Those milestones have come to shape both her life and her art, with Embracing (1992) and Katatsumori (1994) both using the documentary format to seek resolution with those looming parental figures. More than that, she’s allowed these childhood emotions to bleed into the very roots of her fiction films, which cling to any nurturing impulse.

That belief in simple kindnesses has brought her acclaim both at home and abroad. It also drives her latest film, True Mothers, which was selected as the Japanese entry for the Best International Feature Film at this year’s Oscars – although it did not secure a nomination. Her film explores the nature of parenthood through bonds both biological and emotional, finding equal value in both. A married couple, Satoko (Hiromi Nagasaku) and Kiyokazu (Arata Iura), are confronted with a woman who claims to be the birth mother of Asato (Reo Sato), whom they adopted as a newborn. She demands either the return of her child or enough money to keep her away. Is she really who she claims to be?

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