In Japanese dialogues with English and Chinese subtitles
Director: Yoji Yamada
Cast: Sayuri Yoshinaga, Mitsugoro Bando, Tadanobu Asano, Tsurube Shofukutei
RunTime: 2 hrs 3 mins
Released By: GV
Official Website: http://www.kaabee.jp/
Day: 7 May 2009
A strongly moving epic film looking at the harsh reality of Japanese history as The Pacific War a period of time, when Japan started to be strongly involved with World War II, was about to break out, through the eyes of a mother.
The film, Kabei (the nickname the family calls their mother) portrays, with great empathy and emotion, the embrace of motherhood, fatherhood, and family, and how human happiness is all the more precious for the ease with which it can be destroyed.
This film is an eternal cry for peace - a message that is sent to the entire world.
Who would you be watching this Japanese film with? Your significant other half so that both of you can shed buckets of tears when the end credits roll? Your mother so that you can indirectly tell her that how thankful you are for her care and love over the years? Or just by yourself so that you can reflect on how selfless a mother can be for the sake of her children? Whoever you may be watching this Yoji Yamada directed film with, it will a worthwhile viewing experience.
Based on frequent Kurosawa Akira collaborator Nogami Teruyo's biographical novel, the film is set in Tokyo in 1940, where the peaceful life of the Nogami family is interrupted when the father is arrested and accused of being a communist. It is then up to the mother to maintain the household and bring up her two daughters with the help of her sister in law and her imprisoned husband's ex student. Time fleets by and her husband does not return to reunite with the family. World War II soon breaks out and makes matters worse - not only does it affect the family, the whole country is in peril. However, the mother continues to shed love on the family and keeps it going.
How's that for a potential tearjerker?
Seventy seven year old Yamada is a veteran Japanese filmmaker best known for his long running "Tora san" ("It's tough being a man") film series which ran from 1969 to 1995. Younger viewers would know him for his samurai trilogy (2002's Twilight Samurai, 2004's The Hidden Blade and 2006's Love and Honour). His latest work steers away from men and put a woman in the spotlight. As with the delicate and affecting approach in his previous films, this one will have you getting in touch with your emotional self too.
While there is nothing particularly exciting about the movie's plot, you'll find yourself observing every little detail in the film. From the lighthearted dialogue to the careful visual composition, this shows the skills of a fine filmmaker. You'll be engaged by the several charming dinner table conversations and be admiring the insightful details of the house's interior in each movie frame. This is nicely complemented by the assured performances of the cast, including Sayuri Yoshinaga (the mother), Mitsugoro Bando (the father) and Tadanobu Asano (the kind hearted student). Dan Rei, who also starred in Yamada's Love and Honour, turns in an unforgettable performance as the sister in law.
You can also trust Yamada to tell a humanistic and sensitive story which will have the most cynical hearts moved. Never once melodramatic, the 123 minute film slowly but surely has you reflecting on how great a mother's love can be. The understated yet gripping approach to bringing out the characters' personalities is what you definitely won't get in a typical big budget Hollywood wham bham crash and bang production. The realistic insights to a family's lifestyle is also translated to screen effectively by the unhurried pace of the film.
Other than the running theme of a mother's love, the message of peace is also pertinently illustrated with how World War II broke the family apart.
As the film spans over 50 years to its conclusion in a modern hospital, you'd have gone through a touching journey showcasing a mother's indomitable human spirit.
Review by John Li
(Yoji Yamada's sure handed storytelling will affectingly touch your heart.)