Tatsushi Ohmori captures the tragic grip and violent destruction of abuse, but offers no light at the end of the tunnel, no redemption for its characters or viewers, and no pleasure in watching. Mother is hard to stomach, not only because of its overt violence (like the numerous times Ryo beats Akiko) but also because of the emotional violence it shows being inflicted upon young Shuhei. These heart-wrenching moments heavily outnumber those of love, goodness, or joy, like when Fuyuka sees a mattress in the new room set up for them by the social worker and says, "Yay! A mattress!" while promptly jumping on it. Or when Akiko repeatedly forces Shuhei away from school and learning, sometimes literally throwing his books away. The film is a series of increasingly horrible scenes, many of them sexual and many of them violent. Moments of hope quickly get dashed by the abusive boyfriend or by the selfishness of Akiko. At some point she seems to lose altogether any sense of humanity and tells her son to kill her parents, his grandparents, but this jump to murder seems sudden and is delivered too casually. Further, when Akiko tells a now older Shuhei that the grandparents' deaths are "the only way to get money," the inquisitive and smart Shuhei would've known not to believe his mother. But he agrees anyway.
Mother doesn't examine how disempowered, disenfranchised, or marginalized people can often end up committing immoral and criminal behavior; it just shows these behaviors. And yet, if the film offers a take on how a young boy could kill his grandparents, it clearly suggests that the only explanation in this instance is simply that the mother is wholly to blame because just look at how evil she was, just look at how she raised her son. While this may be true, it offers no conclusion, happy ending, or enlightening lesson. Nothing emerges from all the horror. Akiko never shows any remorse for her often-spiteful words to Shuhei or for leaving him countless times or for telling him to kill his grandparents. It's a display of the complete taking advantage of a young child's love for his mother, no matter how bad, damaged, ill, or toxic she might be. Some may find some cinematic beauty here, but most will just find difficulty. The performaces are quite amazing, though, and especially those from the kids.