Kabei: Our Mother (2009)

Director: Yoji Yamada
Plot: Based on childhood days of Teruyo Nogami.

Awards: Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlin Film Festival)

Rating: PG


Competed for the Golden Bear in last year’s Berlin Film Festival, Kabei: Our Mother returns to an era of Japanese filmmaking that is not a common sight these days. The era of traditionalism and conservatism best exemplified by the films of Yasujiro Ozu, the legendary director of Tokyo Story (1953), one of the greatest films ever made. In Kabei: Our Mother, director Yoji Yamada (The Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade) traces the roots of the Japanese upbringing, exploring the family construct in detail and shows how a warring nation and an authoritative government can wreck the dreams of a good life and separate the smallest but most important union of any society.
Based on the childhood stories of Teruyo Nogami, Kabei: Our Mother brings viewers back to the late 193
0s. And does so with certain immediacy. The first few minutes introduce viewers to each of the four members of the family as narrated by the younger sister, Teruyo. Her father and mother are affectionately known as Tobei and Kabei respectively. One night, Tobei (who is a professor) is arrested for political crimes against the nation and is put behind bars indefinitely. This begins a long, tumultuous period of unease and hardship for Kabei and her two young daughters. Yamazaki, a former student of Tobei, sees the struggles of the family and steps into the situation.
Kabei: Our Mother is a tragicomic movie. Kabei is a tragic character right till the end, while Yamazaki provides comic relief in a mostly serious film. Yamada’s film succeeds because of the strength of the cast’s performances. Every role is well-developed and excellently-acted. The bulk of the film takes place in the home of the family. Bonds are built and new relationships are established within the four walls which becomes a safe haven from the increasingly unsympathetic world outside. Besides making an emotionally resonant picture about the under appreciated role of the mother in a family, Yamada clearly shows his hatred towards Japan’s wartime involvement in WWII and his disgust towards a corrupt and selfish government whose military ambitions superseded the general interests of its citizens.

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