True Mothers: Review. By Luke Foulder-Hughes.
True Mothers is a 2020 film directed by Naomi Kawase that follows three main characters as they work out issues with child bearing and adoption. I’m personally a fan of older Japanese cinema but I haven’t seen many films from Japan post 1990, so it was interesting for me to see how the country’s films have developed over time, as well as being intrigued to see the style of Kawase who is a director I’ve heard very positive things about. You can tell in this film that she definitely has a specific style and likes to take her time to develop the characters, which could be a negative factor for some audiences.
This film is very slow paced, which can make it seem boring at the start however it definitely hooks you in with the excellent flashbacks which help focus on the characters and their motivations, which is an incredible way to help us connect to them, particularly Aju Makita’s character Hikari. Her story is by far the most interesting in this film, a 14 year old girl who is pregnant and her struggles negotiating this with family and everything else she goes through as a teenager.
You can see her character’s mannerisms change as she gets older as she loses confidence after putting her baby up for adoption. Aju Makita definitely gives the best performance of the film, despite her looking a bit old early on she ages well as her story progresses and is very convincing. The rest of the acting in the film is decent, nothing special however not bad and off putting.
The way this film was shot was very interesting, as at times it was beautifully shot, particularly the scenes at night, but sometimes it felt like a daytime movie you see when scrolling through the TV guide. This was mainly caused by over lighting scenes inside, and in the second half it occurred less. Sometimes it slipped into this Cassavetes hand held camera style, which felt out of place and unnecessary, as it doesn’t have the gritty atmosphere that is usually there when this camera technique is adopted, although it isn’t distracting and isn’t there most of the time.
The music also felt like it fit well with the way True Mothers was shot, as it had the same issues, at times it was incredibly well made but in general the score was pretty simple and did the bare minimum to achieve the desired reaction from us. It did help contribute to the emotional ending, as both the cinematography and score were both taken up another level.
True Mothers works excellently as an emotional film, and the writing helps this, despite it being relatively bland and predictable (which could be down to the subtitles being slightly wrong every now and again), it still works great with the performances to help us attach to these characters. The themes of adoption and teenage pregnancy don’t resonate with me, however I can imagine that for people who have had experiences related to these topics that this film would feel more real to other people.
I definitely recommend this film to audiences that enjoy films that take time to develop characters, which is probably why I personally didn’t like this film very much and mainly have admiration for the great filmmaking on display from Kawase, and I will definitely check out her other films as her style intrigues me.
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