Mother is a thriller-drama film directed by Tatsushi Ohmori and written by Takehiko Minato and Tatsushi Ohmori. The film stars Masami Nagasawa, Sadao Abe, Daiken Okudaira and Kaho. The movie is based on a true incident that took place in 2014.
Mother makes you so uncomfortable that you sit around squirming in your seat, but there’s nowhere you can run to. It’s dark and so toxic that you don’t know whether you should feel sad, angry or feel absolutely hopeless. The most likely outcome is that you’ll feel all of them together.
Mother follows Akiko and Shuhei, a mother-son duo, who are extremely co-dependent. We follow them from when Shuhei is a kid to when he’s a teenager and see how Akiko’s abuse increases over the years, culminating in a terrible tragedy. Akiko is extremely manipulative and doesn’t think twice before using someone, even her own child. She gets entangled in a terrible relationship that does nothing for her or her children, and also results in her getting abused.
This movie has a lot to unpack. Firstly, the relationship between Shuhei and Akiko is extremely complex. The two are, as I said, co-dependent, and even when Shuhei is old enough to understand her mother’s ill ways, he refuses to stop enabling her. However, you feel bad for the kid – he loves his mother and will do anything to please her. Also, growing up in an unstable household has its impacts on a child’s mind.
On the other hand, Akiko’s character is volatile and manipulative. She doesn’t think twice before using her child for money. She is after attention and intimacy, and thus follows around terrible men who do nothing but use her for money and sex and abuse her children. Akiko, however, is unphased by this and lets them say horrible things to Shuhei.
There’s a point in Mother where you feel like things are looking up. You meet Aya, a social worker, who seems to be a ray of sunshine in Shuhei’s grim life. However, that too is unfortunately short-lived. In that short while, we get to know that Shuhei is smart and is eager to learn. However, his mother, continuing the cycle of abuse, doesn’t let him do anything in his life, lest he gains independence and goes away from her.
Mother’s emotional truth rings true and raw, and the vulnerability with which director Tatsushi Ohmori brings forth the characters and the story makes you feel heartbroken. Be it Shuhei’s unparalleled love for his mother, or Akiko’s unflinching hold over her son, it’s all feels too much sometimes, and you have to look away so as not to plunge into sadness. The shots are long and linger for far too long, without dialogues and any background, and it makes the entire thing even more haunting.
The cinematography and direction are beautiful, and the lack of much dialogue and score makes it haunting. It feels very morose and hopeless – a tone that goes well with the subject matter. Mother is not a movie that talks about the pros and cons of their relationship, or about poverty and abuse. It’s a simple look at the relationship between a mother and a son – a bond that neither of them will break. It’s like looking into nothingness – there’s no end in sight for Akiko and Shuhei’s relationship, and they have made it a point to not give up on each other.
Masami Nagasawa as Akiko is wonderful. The entire movie rests on her shoulders, along with Sho Gunji (as a young Shuhei) and Daiken Okudaira (as a teenage Shuhei). Nagasawa portrays the cold and calculating Akiko flawlessly; you feel terrified for her children, and shake your head at her terrible choices. Even when the camera rests on her face for extended periods of time, it never feels like you are seeing anyone other than the character. Little Sho Gunji and Daiken Okudaira are wonderful as Shuhei as well. Their quiet acceptance and competence are what makes this an even more difficult watch.
Summing up: Mother
Mother is a poignant and extremely distressing look into a very toxic relationship between a mother and a son, a relationship that neither of the two wants to break. Just as Akiko won’t let her son gain independence, so will Shuhei not abandon his mother – regardless of what that means for either of them. If you’re in the mood for watching something hard-hitting and cold, I suggest this one. It’s wonderfully made and acted, and does not fail to touch your heart.
Mother is streaming on Netflix.
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