A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mother is a Japanese drama based on a true story about an abusive mother and her son that contains lots of emotional violence and many scenes sexual in nature. Main character Akiko has no problem talking about sex around her 8-year-old (and later 13-year-old) son Shuhei, nor does she have a problem with getting him to lie, steal, and ultimately, kill. She abandons him for days on end a few times, leaving young Shuhei to fend for himself. They are often seen dirty and hungry and for periods live on the street. A few sex scenes under covers; a man's testicles casually visible during scene on a bed. Many scenes end in implied sex and Shuhei leaving the scene to go buy beer, candy, or cigarettes, as he's told. Some strong language includes "s--t," "bitch," and "ass." Characters often smoke and drink, often near kids. The film is dark, sad, and hard to watch. Multiple scenes of Akiko's abusive boyfriend, Ryo, beating, punching, slapping, and kicking her. Ryo also violently throws young Shuhei onto a bed. Stabbings, including two grandparents and another man.
What's the story?
Somewhat based on a true story, MOTHER is about Akiko (Masami Nagasawa) and her struggles raising her young son while chasing men, weekend getaways, and money. Already in debt to her sister and her parents, Akiko still asks for more money with Shuhei (Sho Gunji as younger and Daiken Okudaira as older), her son, along for sympathy. Akiko lies and says that she's getting a new job, but her family members are tired of this routine, cut her off, and tell her to never contact them again. Soon, Akiko meets Ryo (Sadao Abe), a selfish, small-time criminal. They steal, burglarize, and blackmail a man claiming that he abused Shuhei while in the man's care, later stabbing the man. They flee but Akiko finds that she's pregnant and tell Ryo. He promptly gets angry, beats her, and leaves. Cut to 5 years later and Akiko, Shuhei, and now 4-year-old Fuyuka (Halo Asada) all live on the street. A social worker finds them, sets them up in a government sponsored room, and gets Shuhei into a special school. But eventually Ryo finds them and again the family is in trouble, this time running from debt collectors after Ryo. Things continue to get worse.
Is it any good?
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Mother portrays abuse, addiction, and love. Were these portrayals realistic? How so? In what ways might they not have been?
Was the representation of Akiko's sexual behavior respectful? Why or why not? What was Akiko looking for? How might have Shuhei interpreted his mother's behavior?
Why doesn't Akiko leave Ryo for good?
At what point did you stop having sympathy for Akiko? Why? What about Shuhei?
Was Shuhei's decision at the end of the film selfish or not? Why?
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