A known prodigy of serene and sensual filmmaking, Naomi Kawase should in all honesty be considered as a modern master. It’s a shame that she hasn’t received the amount of admiration and general applause from western audiences, in comparison with her male counterparts Hirokazu Kore-eda and Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Kawase’s eclectic filmography is a visceral undertaking, an impressive body of work that will submerge its viewer into a pool of mitigation. She has a strong command of earth, wind, and sea; where when combined with her simplistic family and romance based-narratives, creates a sense of wonder and pensive amusement. All of her stories in some way or form highlight the most universal elements of the human condition. Her latest feature True Mothers may just be one of her best, in which her controlled sense of time, space, and life itself is interwoven between the peculiar lives of three unique characters. 

True Mothers highlights a wide variety of subjects, including but not limited to the importance of parenting, the ethics of gender roles, and the unpredictability of motherhood. Subjects come and go, as different scenarios and subplots constantly shift tones and dramatic intent. Though there’s one major key factor that pieces everything together. Kawase understands the importance of dialogue; how conversations can lead to progress and create a sense of relief. True Mothers is the story about the human need to have conversations, how prolonged internal suffering can lead to more tragic outcomes. When death seems to be the only escape for Hikari the lead birth mother featured in the film — Kawase makes it evident that the only path for any real consolidation is the universal need for acceptance. 

We’re not here for a long time. As the years go by, the more it seems as though our limited life-time countdown is slowly coming upon us. Kawase understands the fleeting feeling of mortality, where the structure of True Mothers is purposefully nonlinear in order to create a distant and cozy feeling of a life long lost. She utilizes quick pans and cuts to nature-based shots, in order to ease her audience into another timeline with a nostalgic filter; wind glistening through trees, as we constantly shift and discover the past, present, and potential future of these loving characters. It’s a story without any real heroes or villains, a film that unravels like a jigsaw puzzle, where we gently assemble together the remaining pieces in order to fully understand the human struggle of the three major key players. 

True Mothers is a film best to go in blind. A film righteously dependent on the shrouded mystery behind it’s symbolic subplots and ambiguous character motives, the film gracefully glides through a six-year timeframe of life and death itself. Life is never easy. It’s hard to overcome major landmark obstacles when faced with a wall of villainous adversity. It’s important not to lose control, where our fate can be easily dependent on the strain of society and the pressures of normalcy. Kawase never sugar coats her character’s struggles, where she’s also never afraid to delve deep into their harrowing past. In some regards, this film may just be her most personal and dedicated fictional piece to date, where the rudimentary set up is further enhanced by her sensorial direction. 

A high contender for one of the best films of the year, Naomi Kawase’s True Mothers is a somber ode to the necessary compulsion of human discourse. It’s a film that touched me deeply and even made this fellow critic emotional during its final scenes, in which the simplistic and universal appeal of Kawase’s message is one that should be more commonly advocated and promoted. In a world shrouded in darkness, where any person can feel erased for their own narrative, it’s important to talk things out. Have that conversation. Once we start becoming more comfortable with one another, maybe then we can evolve past the need for needless assigned roles and the convoluted expectations found within working class circles.

Dir: Naomi Kawase

Scr: Naomi Kawase & Izumi Takahashi

Cast: Hiromi Nagasaku, Arata Iura, Aju Makita, Miyoko Asada

Country: Japan

Year: 2020

Run time: 139 minutes

True Mothers screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The film is currently seeking UK distribution.

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