Ever since the 1930s, Japanese cinema has had a comparative advantage producing domestic dramas. It helped that filmmakers like Yasujiro Ozu and Yasujiro Shimizu were just so good at it. Fittingly, Japanese-American filmmaker-thesp Kana Hatakeyama follows in this tradition with her short film about Japanese homecomings. A daughter studying abroad learns it won’t be easy, but maybe she can come home again in Hatakeyama’s Okaasan (Mom), which screens during this year’s Brooklyn Film Festival (trailer here).
The absence of men in this family is conspicuous. It used to be Yuka, her mother, and her grandmother, but she left for college and her grandmother passed away. This will be the first cemetery visit and death anniversary ceremony for Yuka. Unfortunately, we soon start to suspect the grandmother probably served as a mediator between the two younger generations. However, there is still Hime-chan, the loyal and cinematic family dog.
Okaasan is a simple and subtle film, but its emotions are very real and deeply felt. We can see each woman carries her share of guilt and resentment for various reasons. It is not exactly a problem of miscommunication—they are really having trouble reconnecting. Yet, they still share so much history together as well as a foundation of love to build on.
This is a quietly beautiful film that shuns cheap sentimentality and completely earns its moving payoff through hard work. Both Kana and Kako Hatakeyama give sensitive but highly disciplined performances—and yes, they are quite believable as mother and daughter.
There is also something rather lovely about the way Hatakeyama depicts the restorative influence of traditional rituals and the gentle rhythms of life in the mother’s provincial town. Frankly, it looks like a good place to live. Yuka and her mother are also good people, they just have their issues, which makes them human. (Plus, Hime-chan is a charmer.) It is just refreshing to spend time with them in this environment. Very highly recommended, Okaasan (Mom) screens Saturday (6/2) and Sunday (6/10), as part of short film programs at this year’s Brooklyn Film Festival.